Minot Park District and ‘The Big Evergreen’

July 25 was a sad day for our family. We knew it was going to happen sometime this summer. Brian, the city forester, had told us they would just show up and get ‘er done. For 28 years we have lived in this house. And for 28 years, the 50-foot evergreen tree has stood at the edge of our front yard. It had served us well for what seemed like forever, but now, Brian assured us, the tree was dying and needed to be cut down.

“The big evergreen” was more than just a nesting place for birds and a place to tangle lights at Christmas. In the spring, we would scrape away the snow and begin to carve out little forts, building make-believe fires with its needles. In the summer, we had surprise picnics under that tree, dripping ice cream and popsicles on its branches. Some days we would have quiet conversations with no one else listening underneath the big evergreen. And with the kids who were young enough to play hide and seek, we hid from the mailman, under that tree, just to see if we really could do it. “Under the big evergreen” was often the answer to random questions yelled through the house for many years: ” Where did you find the pinecones?” “Where did I leave my shoes?” “Where were you hiding?” And the best of all, “Where’s my pillow and blanket?”

Early in the day, the trucks from Minot City Parks drove up the cul de sac. For the next hour and a half, piece by piece, “the big evergreen” came down. Four young men, some of them no older than our sons who had built forts under that tree not so long ago, began their work with obvious skill, efficiency and organization. Austin, Gabe, Cole and Jason, arrived with hard hats, ear protection, and safety belts. While the mother in me was concerned for their safety, I was assured there was no need. Before this whole tree thing began, I had little knowledge of the forestry department of the city parks, and certainly didn’t understand the precision and knowledge necessary to cut down a 50-foot evergreen. In anticipation, we grabbed kitchen chairs and boldly planted ourselves at the window.

Though not being one to embrace technology, I was grateful for the smart phones that could send pictures and clips of this amazing process to some of our kids, scattered across the country. Their advice and comments were insightful. “Ask if we can save a piece of the trunk.” “We can build a table with part of the tree,” texted with a picture of what it could look like. “Could we carve the date and our name into a piece of the tree?” So we would always remember, I assumed. One of the kids sent a picture of the stump and the log from a family favorite, “The Giving Tree.” Perhaps we did raise a bunch of sentimental young adults after all. Thankful for their input, I explained the request to two of the young men. “We have a bunch of kids. Could you save a few pieces?. We have a lot of memories in that big evergreen.”

Minot Park District can be proud of these young men. Their work exemplified what the city park’s forestry department holds to be important: “working hard to serve the community” and “simply doing our best to make Minot a more beautiful and safe place to live.” Before they left, they raked our yard, cleaned branches and pine needles from the cul de sac, and told us they would be back in the fall to take out the stump. They untangled miles of Christmas tree lights that had spent more than a few years wrapped around that big evergreen. And when the job was done, they cut the branchless tree into nine logs, and rolled them to the fence, where our kids will come to collect them.

Austin, Gabe, Cole and Jason are a tribute to this city, the park district, and their parents. “But this is their job” you say. So why would this day be any different? All in a days work? Maybe. But these young men connected with our family, understood our off-beat request, and had some level of compassion for the bunch of Charley kids who were watching near and far, as “the big evergreen” came down. It was impressive, to say the least…workers with diligence and integrity that Minot can be proud to claim as their own.

What could we say, but thank you? As they were leaving for their next job, I looked at that stump that marked the home of that tree and thought about all the years of childhood fun that had made the “big evergreen” so important in our lives,. Will these four young men understand the level of sadness and gratitude that was shared in our family today? Probably not. But hopefully they understand that their beautiful gift of time and caring and going above and beyond, was more than just “all in a day’s work.” Their kindness and understanding of things that seemed difficult, somehow made it easier for all of us. And for the bunch of kids who were watching their tree come down, it was a bit less painful, knowing that their very own piece of “the big evergreen” is waiting by the fence. We are deeply grateful to Brian who helped us begin this adventure, and to Austin, Gabe, Cole and Jason, without whom this would have been a completely different experience.