Column Classic: If a Tree Falls in the Driveway…

By Lisa Scottoline

So, a tree landed on my garage, but didn’t damage anything. That would be the good, and the bad, news.

It got me looking at the trees around my house, and there are plenty of them. More good and bad news.

I don’t know what type of trees they are, because it never mattered to me. I operate on the principle that there’s only so much information my tiny little brain can hold, and it’s already stuffed with things I need to know for work, plus essentials like the words to most Rolling Stones songs and the Empire Flooring jingle.

So, I never learned the names of the trees I own. I’d be happy to name them Mick and Keith, and let it go at that.

But I do love the way they look, especially in fall, when they turn bright yellow and gorgeous orange, or in summer, when their rich green shades the lawn. Bottom line, we can all agree, trees are good.


But then I started eyeing the trees, close up, and with the leaves fallen, I could see a lot of old branches, thick, dark, and ending in a point. I’m no expert, but some looked dead. I started to wonder when they might fall, like daggers from heaven.

Call this an exaggeration, but recall that I was raised by Mother Mary, who taught me that even the most mundane items can kill you. For example, knives loaded into the dishwasher will stab you. Blow-dryers will electrocute you. Toasters have murder on their minds.

So, I started to see the trees not as examples of natural beauty, but as lethal weapons.

And they could fall at any second, on me, the dogs, or the cats. And some of my trees hang over my street, and I’d hate to think they could fall on a passing car or person. I couldn’t live with myself if that happened.

I have enough guilt already.

And made me worry about something worse.

Namely, lawyers.

So I called a tree service guy, who came over and started pointing. He knew the names of all the trees. Hemlock. Sugar maple. Red oak. Mulberry. Tulip poplar.

What lovely words.

Then he started in with the numbers.

$450, $340, $540. Not so lovely.

And then sent me a two-page estimate.

What was it that Joyce Kilmer wrote? I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree…service estimate?

It turns out that I have lots of trees that need servicing. Dead branches have to be trimmed, stumps ground down and hauled away. We’re talking days of work.

For trees?

I expect to pay for home improvement, but I never factored in tree improvement. It reminded me of the time I had to call an excavator to build a swale in my backyard, and if you don’t know what a swale is, it’s like a berm, only more expensive.

No, I don’t know what a berm is either. That’s why it costs extra. Things add up when you start with dirt improvement.

And some of the tree improvement sounded downright exotic. For example, the tree guy told me that it was a spruce tree that fell on the garage, and it would cost $380 to reduce the top leaders.

I didn’t know what a top leader was, but it sounded redundant. Nobody follows a bottom leader.

Can you imagine, a bottom leader running for president? No, we can’t! Give up and go home!


And it would cost $90 for a fir tree that needed cable. I didn’t know trees had cable. Do they have DVRs, too?

And some of it was scary. The estimate read that my sugar maple had to be pruned “to prevent main trunk failure.”

That can’t be good, can it?

Plus, I think it already happened.

To my waist.

© Lisa Scottoline