Throughout the month of January, WordPress is sending participating bloggers a writing prompt each day. It’s a way to find some creative inspiration and perhaps make connections with other bloggers. My entries in this blogging challenge will appear here under the tag #bloganuary.
There is a Sweetgum tree in my front yard that overhangs my driveway. It provides shade for my car, which is good, because my garage now serves as my woodworking shop, and it provides food and shelter for birds and squirrels. To my knowledge, these are the only two useful features of this otherwise entirely awful tree. (Besides, the birds defecate all over my car.)
The American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is a species that is considered native to the southeastern U.S., so as far as I’m concerned, this horrible tree shouldn’t even be here in northeast Kansas, but here it is, nonetheless. Given its height and breadth, it has been in here far longer than I have. This very large tree begins dropping its thick canopy of leaves in the early fall, but unlike the oaks and maples in my neighbors’ yards, it never really finishes dropping leaves, but continues to drop them throughout the fall and winter. I believe the last of the dead leaves doesn’t fall until pushed off the tree by new leaves in the spring.
Photo: the still-full canopy of my Sweetgum tree in the dead of winter.Photo: the demonic fruit of the American Sweetgum tree
Despite the fact that raking is required virtually year-round, the leaves are the least of the horrible things this tree produces. The fruit of the sweetgum is a terrible thing, a little smaller than a ping-pong ball, with a hard core that is covered in sharp spikes. My grandchildren, who almost never wear shoes when playing outdoors at their house, and the soles of whose feet are practically leather-like, do not walk barefoot through my front yard. My tree sheds these little hate-bombs by the hundreds of thousands, from Labor Day through Easter every year. One can walk on them with thick-soled shoes without injury, though when they accumulate in large numbers on the driveway, it can be a bit like walking on marbles. So I do my best to stay ahead of them and rake and sweep them up as often as I can.
I do not care for yard work. I begrudgingly mow my lawn every week throughout the summer, and I dutifully apply the chemicals that rid the lawn of grubs and weeds, and I even stalk the odd dandelion with a spray bottle of dandelion poison in my hand. I help my wife with her garden, though not always cheerfully. I don’t like yard work, but I have made my peace with it. But cleaning up after this tree is a futile chore that I detest with a white-hot passion, and it is never done.
Why not simply have the tree removed? Oh, how I would celebrate that day. There was once a Golden Raintree (koelreuteria paniculata) on the other side of my yard, not nearly so large as the Sweetgum, but it had problems of its own–it was home to a very large colony of Golden Raintree bugs that infested our home and were virtually impossible to exterminate until their chief source of food–the seed pods of the Golden Raintree–was removed from the area. The trunk of that tree became rotted to the point that it posed some risk of falling on the house, so my son-in-law cut it down for me. The bugs disappeared soon after the tree was gone. But the Sweetgum is a much, much larger tree, and to have it professionally removed would be quite costly, so for the time being I will continue to clean up after this arboreal pest, and hold onto hope that within my lifetime, a strong wind will knock it down so that I can make furniture out of it. Oh, how blissful my final days would be, sitting in a rocking chair made from my infernal American Sweetgum tree.