MATT MARKEY Enlarge
Just about this time every year, when fall cleanup is in fifth gear and the broccoli and cabbage plants are the only soldiers still standing at attention in the vegetable garden, the fate of the “ugly tree” enters the discussion.
This lonely sentinel has stood on the north side of the property for about 10 years. It arrived here from a closeout/clearance sale at a nearby nursery, reduced to about 70 percent off its original price due to its odd shape, missing appendages and general unkempt appearance.
It came home with us, partially out of empathy, but also because of that fierce green-thumb bravado that led us to believe that some tender, loving care would have this sorry looking fir ready for the White House lawn over the holidays within a couple of years.
The planting location was chosen with much thought, so that this troubled stick with none of the symmetry that makes nature so amazing would have the best opportunity to thrive. The hole was prepared well beyond the recommended depth and width, and the root ball was separated with the delicate touch of a diamond cutter.
The tree was double-staked to help it deal with the vagaries of the wind, which in northern Wood County can at one point mean a subtle, wispy breeze, and a few hours later make you wonder if Hurricane Andrew had an angry, Midwest cousin.
The “ugly tree” was watered and fed religiously (more often than the children, some vendors of sarcasm claimed), and given 10 times the individual care that any of the other 200-plus trees on the property received.
Still, the Christmas décor committee from the White House never called. We missed the mark on that one, but a decade later the ugly tree has doubled in height, and shown regular but modest growth on its limbs, which resemble a trigonometry problem with far too many tangents.
Food, water and pampering aside, its basic look has not changed. So during the autumn trimming and raking phase, when the failed and infirmed flowers, saplings and strawberry plants are culled from the plot to allow the strong to thrive, the fate of the “ugly tree” is usually discussed.
While the rest of the many conifers that form an L-shaped windbreak around the pond have grown tall and thick, this loner on the protected side of that barrier remains as disheveled looking as ever.
In a world where the apples in the store won’t sell if they have a single spot on them, where the finish on our cars is often more important than the guts under the hood, and where plastic surgery can be more expensive than a necessary medical procedure – looks do matter.
And this tree looks awful. If Olive Oyl and Jim Ignatowski had a child, and it was a tree, it would look like this – the merger of scrawny and scruffy, but with needles and bark. The Grinch would have left this one in Whoville.
Each year we broach the subject of just taking it down, since the “ugly tree” remains as unhealthy and messy looking as the day it arrived. But it always manages to get that call from the governor at 11:55, and live for another season.
We realize things likely won’t change, but we maintain that soft spot in our souls for this tree. This is like cheering for the Browns, or hoping Charlie Brown kicks that ball, or that Wylie Coyote finally has roadrunner for dinner, but we hang on to the hope.
After all, there is something very admirable about this evergreen. It faces the worst of what Ohio winters can throw at it, and it stands there and takes it, and survives.
Maybe it’s the fact that we brought it home, like that last rescue dog at the adoption event – the one nobody else wanted. There is an emotional investment in this tree, but the dividends are obviously not paid out as stunning visuals.
Some of the best estimates place the total number of trees in the U.S., including Alaska, in the trillions. That’s a number we thought we only used to describe the federal debt, or the distance to the latest discovery in space.
So if we have hundreds of healthy, robust and sturdy trees on this little patch of rural northwest Ohio, and trillions of them throughout the country, why anguish over one? Why let the fate of a single, disjointed and anemic-looking pine even be an issue?
Well, a lot of people like a mutt. And once you adopt one, you treat it like a purebred. Besides, I am convinced that with just one more year of nurturing, extra fertilizer, and new mulch, this ugly tree will thrive. When the White House calls looking for the next Christmas tree for the lawn, then we’ll have a really tough decision to make.
MAUMEE LOVE STORY: The documentary film “Romancing the River: a Maumee Love Story” will be aired at 8 p.m. on Thursday on WGTE as part of the “Toledo Stories” series. The hour-long documentary covers the canoe trip made in 2011 by now-retired Blade outdoors editor Steve Pollick and his team that covered the more than 120-mile length of the river, from its source in Fort Wayne to where the Maumee reaches downtown Toledo before dumping into Lake Erie. The film highlights the group’s journey, and the Maumee River’s history, wildlife, natural allure and the environmental challenges facing the waterway.
Contact Blade outdoors editor
Matt Markey at:
or 419-724-6068 .