A Tree Falls in Bellevue

When I moved from Phoenix to Washington in the early eighties, I lived in two separate high rise condo buildings in downtown Seattle—Harbor Heights originally and later Bay Vista. Yes, Beau’s Belltown Terrace in the Denny Regrade is patterned after Bay Vista at Second and Broad. Our unit had a water view, and our favorite wintertime pastime was watching the crash car derby going down Broad whenever a snowstorm hit.

In-city dwellers had a certain contempt regarding the ‘burbs. I recall a conversation between two of those folks where one of them mentioned having had to go to Bellevue that day. “Oh, my,” the other one said, “did you pack a lunch?”

So when Bill came along and carted me off to Bellevue on the far side of Lake Washington, as far as they were concerned, he could just as well have been taking me to the edge of the earth. To begin with it was tough going for me. I couldn’t figure out why, with I-90 right there, I couldn’t necessarily get to Factoria from the freeway. The way streets were numbered was very confusing. And why, for instance, was Northeast 8th seemingly the main drag while Main Street was little more than a cow path?

The first time I rode through the part of Bellevue called Bridle Trails, I felt downright claustrophobic. Bridle Trails is actually a 482 acre urban park made up of second growth trees with houses tucked in here and there under an almost solid canopy of green. To me, it was dark and gloomy, and I remember saying aloud to Bill, “I could never live here!” It turns out, you need to watch what you say and even what you think, because God has a sense of humor, and He’s paying attention.

So now, of course, I do live in Bridle Trails, at the south end of that forest in a home we purchased in 2006. When the place was built in the late nineties, whoever did so must have shared my claustrophobic sentiments about trees, because our two-acre lot was clearcut before the house was built. Our home occupies a patch of sunlit hillside. It’s an area surrounded by trees and, as it turns out, full of wildlife. We have a neighborhood black bear who has learned to open even the most bear-proof of dumpsters and who times his/her visits to occur the night before garbage day. We also have a small herd of a dozen or so deer who hang out in the meadow like backyard of the house next door. These are horse acres, but with no horses in residence, they tuck themselves away in the area behind a now repurposed barn.

We have some trees on our property now, but they’re mostly ones we planted, and they’re definitely on the short side compared to the towering giants on neighboring properties, and that’s where the blog is taking us today—to a discussion of a neighboring tree.

Just outside our kitchen window is a stand of a dozen or so of those hundred-foot second growth Douglas fir. The east end of our house is on the far end of our property while the house next door is situated at the very front of that lot. Between the two properties is an impenetrable border of Arborvitae, so we’re next door neighbors in name only. To get from our house to theirs is a five-minute drive down one steep hill and up another. I’ve heard kids playing in that backyard, and so have our dogs, but I’ve never caught sight of them.

Then, about three years ago, the people who owned the house sold it to someone else—a property developer. About that time, I began noticing that one of the giant Douglas firs close to the property line and just outside our kitchen window appeared to be ailing. I didn’t think too much about it that first year, but by year two, our gardener expressed his concern. By then it was clear the tree was really going downhill.

So I started trying to reach out to the neighbor—to no avail. I stopped by the house, but no one was home. He didn’t live there. I asked the yard guys for his name or contact number—no dice. When roofers showed up, I spoke to them, too, but again, nothing happened. Finally, my son—an architect—was able to track down the owner’s name and number through the local building department.

I took a photo of the tree to send him. It’s not a good photo, so I’m not posting it here, but once I did, it was clear that if the tree had fallen in the wrong direction during a wind storm it would have covered our house from end to end.

Because the tree was at the back of his property, the owner had never seen it. Once he did, he immediately got in touch with us, and we agreed to split the cost of tree removal—a far smaller expense than rebuilding the house. I believe Evie, my mother, would have said, “A stitch in time saves nine.”

So yesterday was tree removal day. When I looked out and saw how tiny the man was compared to the size of the tree, I was astonished! They stripped off most of the bottom branches first. (The chipper ran all day long. Mary and Jojo were not amused.) When the top half of the tree came down well inside the owner’s property, it landed on their driveway with such a blow that neighborhood car alarms went off. Ditto for the second half as well.

But today it’s gone. The tree lived long and well, but like all of us eventually, it got old and died. After a long dry summer, today is the first of autumn’s many soaking rainstorms. Once the ground softens up, I have no doubt that a strong winter windstorm would have brought it down, and it might not have fallen in the right direction.

I believe Robert Frost once said that good fences make good neighbors. In this case so does responsible tree removal, and when it comes time to do dishes after dinner tonight, I’ll be feeling a lot safer.