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.

36 thoughts on “A Tree Falls in Bellevue

  1. The apartment complex I live in has quite a few trees. Over the past few months, the property manager has had a tree company come out and look at all of the trees here. A few have been removed because, like at your place, a good strong wind plus some soaking rains caused some of them to lean precariously close to some of the buildings. It’s fascinating watching them remove those trees, but it removes a lot of anxiety for me and my wife when the weather is inclement.

  2. Could you smell the tree as the wood chipped it? I had two large pines (the Tucson variety) fall in my front yard several years ago. Don’t worry, they missed everything important. I just remember how amazing my front yard smelled while they were being removed. Also, I’ve watched the car crash derby in Flagstaff. It’s something I could watch for hours.

  3. You feel a lot safer, but when my “never met him” neighbor took out a tree for the same reason two years ago (he had just moved in and thought it was leaning toward HIS house), I felt, and still feel, naked and exposed! I’ve lived surrounded by trees since 1984, and I’ve loved the privacy. Now I must pull my drapes!

  4. Our neighborhood was developed about 60 years ago and the cottonwoods that were planted are reaching the end of their lives. Every year or so one needs to be cut down. Fun to watch. I’m glad our next door neighbor cut down the tree that could have hit our house.

  5. Ah, trees, I love them but they don’t love us (understandably sometimes) – or do they? Last summer a 125 year old tulip poplar on the city right of way across our front garden fell in a freak wind storm – it could have been catastrophic for any of the many houses within its span, but instead it came down right along the street with the only damage to a neighbors fence and car in a couple small spots. No power for a week (which here, where AC is a health requirement, is a big deal). But as I kept saying it could have been so much worse. The city had contractors take out the final 12 feet and the stump 9 months later and we now have a flower garden in the early planting stages where it was.

    So a stich in time could have saved a lot, didn’t, but all ended well. Glad your tree story did too!


  6. We have a small woods directly behind our house and we thought it would be a good idea to put a couple of trees in our backyard to make it appear to flow into the woods. My mother-in-law gave us a very small sapling from a Maple tree wrapped in a napkin. I told my wife it would never grow and the first year it didn’t. However, the second year it began to shoot up very quickly. Now, after 10 years this little, seemingly insignificant sapling is now more than 40′ tall. Now it is our shade tree. Simply goes to show what a little faith, patience, and care can do.

  7. When we bought our house there was a beautiful Liquid Amber tree near the curb in front of our house. In late fall it began to shed its lovely leaves. Most of the leaves were carried down the street by wind. The neighbors were unhappy and complaining to me. They were my leaves but I didn’t want to go up and down the street raking leaves. I went to the HOA asking if the gardeners could handle it. They said, no.. So I told them I was going cut the tree down. I was told that the tree belonged to the city and if I did, I would be fined. My attorney said it couldn’t go both ways … if the tree belonged to the city it was their problem to maintain and if it was my tree I had total control and responsibility. The city took claim to the tree. Every year, in early November the tree trimmers comes out and trim the tree back and removes all of the leaves.
    And we all lived happily ever after.

  8. Had to laugh at your moving to the “sticks”. Lived in between Kent and Maple Valley for many years, then moved to Hawaii for 16. Heading back to the PNW as we’re now officially old and need to be near family , bought a home in Black Diamond. Needless to say, that was once the “sticks” to us.
    Love your blog. Have been hooked on your books for many years. Recently re-read both Beaumont and Brady series. Happily finding I had several autographed books. Starting Ali’s series now. Thanks for sharing their lives with us .

  9. I am amazed again of your Parallel experiences in your blog and writings(in middle of “Unfinished Business”. )
    Also just finished “After the Fire” amazing your perception of Alcoholism and the Effects of the disease of all around us. I also am sending a copy of this blog to a friend that now lives on Kent Hill with a beautiful territorial view of Kent valley. and a master gardener but owned for about ten years The Floral shop in Bridal Veils Shopping center that you probably purchased some of your gifts from around 2006 and later. {six degrees of separation} .. You and your writings’ have opened up many thoughts and reembraces in my life and even helped me with accepting Life as it has been delt out to Me. Thank you for being there for me and 14250 devoted readers(I know that number needs to be updated because I have caused at least 25 people to become addicted to YOUR fiction. Most sincerely Chuck From Tacoma, Ur old Shuttle Express Driver.

  10. Great story. I miss the green and the large trees of Western Washington, but not the long weeks of gray overcast, low ceilings, cold drizzle and moss growing on everything. It’s about 80 and sunny in Phoenix today and after 40 years I have become a true desert rat. I look forward to your blog every Friday

    • On my last trip home from SeaTac, I shared some of my newly discovered cooking tips with Kieth, my new favorite Shuttle Express driver. From someone who started handling family cooking duties in me seventies, this is hilarious, but Keith seemed to appreciate them.

  11. Where you live sounds beautiful! Glad you and your neighbor worked together to solve the tree problem.
    This is so true, Judy –
    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.
    He definitely is paying attention and His sense of humor is unequaled!
    Hope you had a great birthday!

  12. Yeah – I’m an ardent tree hugger. I see your concern tho. It’s like letting a beloved pet go to sleep when they are in pain and no longer a happy thriving animal. So sad but one must think of the quality of the animal’s life and not of our own personal feelings being hurt by the loss of their closeness. In your case, your own very lives could have been negatively impacted as well as your home.

  13. As usual, lots of comments running through my head!

    First, trees make you uncomfortable, but you grew up in the plains of SD and then the desert, so forests don’t feel like “home” to you. I grew up climbing in and hiding among trees in places where low hills were the dominant terrain, and the plains and desert leave me feeling a bit kenophobic.

    The county tax assessor is the best resource for learning who owns a property.

    Tree care is important! My first spouse and I bought our house in 1983, and within a year had a professional look at the established trees, pruning as needed. We had a lovely front-yard maple tree that had what he called a double leader, two parallel trunks that started about 8 feet up. He suggested they be cabled together for stability. Good thing we did! In 1985, hurricane Gloria took out trees and huge branches all over our neighborhood, but our tree came through intact. I watched it bend more than I thought a tree could bend, from the far side of the living room.

    Fast forward to 1995, when, post-divorce, I bought an older house surrounded by a variety of big old trees. In April of 1996, before I had a chance to get the arborist to visit, one of them lost a monstrous branch during a spring snowstorm, putting dents in the gutters but thankfully not going through the roof. A few years later a very young tree did come up roots and all, landing behind (blessedly!) my car but not on it.

    The previous owners of our current property made the mistake of planting a pair of walnut trees just a few feet from the north side of the house, quite close to the septic tank. We hated to see mature, productive trees go, but after paying to have the roots ground out where they’d invaded said septic tank, and during the major renovation that we did shortly thereafter, out they came. Twelve years later the new walnuts on the west side of the property are bearing. Far away from the house!

      • The next best time is now!

        We moved to Oregon from MA in 2008. Most of our fruit and nut trees were planted in 2009 and 2010. Now there is bounty for us, for sharing with people, and for sharing with the birds and squirrels. I’m currently monitoring the late-ripening figs for ripeness. Yesterday, there were hummingbirds around the strawberry tree (arbutus unedo) because it’s blooming. Year-round interest, and room to continue improving it.

  14. Trees like people have an infinite life. Some die young some need pruning. Some have to go, making room for others.

  15. I grew up in Centralia, WA. We had a walnut tree between our house and our neighbors. the houses were very close and the summer before the infamous 1962 Columbus Day storm we took that tree out. If we hadn’t it would have taken out our neighbors house!

  16. We have three acres of Douglas fir that I am having to cut down those close to the house and shop. Last winter one standing next to the green house decided to fall over do to the wind and amount of water its roots were getting from the runoff from the greenhouse roof.
    There was a sliver of a path between our generator shed and the house, and this tree fell right down this narrow line, just missing both by mere inches, chopping my star magnolia in half when it fell.
    After cutting up this one. I dropped its sister just to be safe.
    Right now I have lots of Fire wood I could sell.
    Whidbey Island gets some pretty good winds. Yesterday we had gusts up to 51 mph.

    • Judy, we had 15 pine trees surrounding our house here in Rehoboth Beach Delaware. A couple winters ago after a storm one fell pulling up our neighbors fence. We got a tree guy out right away and he Saud the same thing is likely to happen again to one or more of those pine trees and we may not be as lucky to just pull up a fence….so, the next day they came back and took down all 15!! I was sad to lose them and the privacy they gave us but now we’re happy with how our yard looks.
      I really love your books, I’ve read almost all of JP Beaumont and some of Joanna Brady. I found 6 of her series from the beginning and just read all 6 back to back. I was happy to learn her beginnings especially since I had already some of her newer ones. It was nice to learn how she became Sheriff but sad how she lost her husband, then it was fun to see how she met Butch…thanks for all of your books,, I thoroughly enjoy every one if them!!
      Rose Osterstrom from Rehoboth Beach Delaware ?

    • Judy, we had 15 pine trees surrounding our house here in Rehoboth Beach Delaware. A couple winters ago after a storm one fell pulling up our neighbors fence. We got a tree guy out right away and he said the same thing is likely to happen again to one or more of those pine trees and we may not be as lucky to just pull up a fence….so, the next day they came back and took down all 15!! I was sad to loose them and the privacy they gave us but now we’re happy with how our yard looks.
      I really love your books, I’ve read almost all of JP Beaumont and some of Joanna Brady. I found 6 of her series from the beginning and just read all 6 back to back. I was happy to learn her beginnings especially since I had already read some of her newer ones. It was nice to learn how she became Sheriff but sad how she lost her husband, then it was fun to see how she met Butch…thanks for all of your books, I thoroughly enjoy every one of them!!
      Rose Osterstrom from Rehoboth Beach Delaware ?

  17. A few years ago I bought 5 1/2 acres in the mountains of southern California and put a house on it. I have 20+ oak trees. I love my oaks but there are none near enough to the house to fall on it. This years long drought has been hard on the oaks and I have lost 3 or 4. Good news is I have some volunteer baby oaks that I water regularly. They grow so slowly that I know that I will not see them mature. Hopefully some one else will tho.

  18. You were lucky you were able to find out who the owner was, he agreed to the tree removal and you were able to get a permit that quickly to remove it.

  19. I well remember when I first moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1948 that one logging truck could carry only one cut tree, those old-growth trees were so large. Bob Glass

  20. What a wonderful thing to find a new author – with a blog – so I can say Thank You!

    A one-author-at-a-time reader – not necessarily in order, I’ve gone through Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Robert Whitlow, Tom Clancy, Mark Greaney, Lee Child, Dee Henderson and many more – and now I’m a happy J.A. Jance read-through reader.

    Love your writing style and characters, and especially your heart-melting, life lesson stories! Just what I needed for healing, encouraging, bolstering me through our now nearly 40 years of dealing with daughter’s progressive genetic neurodegenerative disease. Oh man – it’s an education and vocation rolled into one. Reading and gardening/yard work are my therapies of choice.

    Just finished The Old Blue Line – and wishing/hoping those smart old codgers about my age (soon to also be 78) would reappear in other books. Seniors need heroes too!

    Well, thanks again! Love and blessings to you and all your fans, old and new!

    • Welcome aboard. So glad to have you as a relatively new reader, and I’m glad to know that reading my stories gives you some respite from caregiving. And if you enjoy the blog, feel free to scroll back through the archives. It’s like reading my autobiography on the installment plan.

  21. I can visualize whereof you are speaking. I spent many hours in Bridle Trails through my teen years on a grandson of Man O War whose name was simply Sandy. He was a wonderful, dependable and reliable guy with quite a personality. I was fortunate to have his owner as a mentor as my parents couldn’t afford a horse. As a student at Lake Washington High School, instead of getting involved in after school events, I would walk up to the barn to be with Sandy. Those were the most wonderful times of my younger years.

  22. Thankfully, becuase of your tenacity, you most likely dodged a bullet with that tree removal. I can relate going after something needing to be taken care of, until it’s “handled”. I’m the same way, much to my husband’s dismay at times, but being glad something that needed to be taken care was done so and he didn’t have to lift a finger.

  23. What a relief to know that deadly threat is gone- During Nor’Easters in NYC, drivers have been killed when a large tree fell on their car as they were stopped on flooded roads- Thank God your research paid off and the developer responded in a responsible way-
    I can relate to the “City” vs. the “Burbs” mentality- In New York City for a long time only Manhattan has been considered to be a civilized place to live- People from the other four boroughs were called, “The bridge and tunnel crowd,” with smug superiority, if not outright contempt- (I myself was once guilty of that) That has changed to some extent, now that Brooklyn is fashionable and expensive, and there are even parts of Queens and the Bronx that are seen as fairly civilized- However, my borough, Staten Island, is openly ridiculed by other denizens of NYC- It is actually the “Step-borough’ of NYC- Our reputation was not helped at all when, in the last election, a certain candidate was elected as our Borough President- I’ve repressed his name, but here are the details: In 2000 he was the Congressional Rep for Staten Island-
    One evening he was driving in Virginia while intooxicated, and was stopped by the police- In the process of arresting him, it was discovered that this fine law-maker actually had a “Secret second family” in the Commonwealth of Virginia, which came as news to his constituents in Staten Island, as well as to his Staten Island wife and children – The public was not amused, and this Representative had to resign-
    In 2020, however, presumably with the children of his two families having reached adulthood, and Staten Islanders, and perhaps his two wives, being a forgiving bunch, he was elected to the office of Borough President of Staten Island-
    I am a Stephen Colbert fan, and watched The Late Show just after the election-
    Needless to say, great fun was had at the expense of of Staten Island, which was called, “Theoretically, but not actually, part of New York City-”
    I had run into this attitude once when ordering clothes by phone- The person I was speaking to was in California- When I gave my address as “Staten Island- That’s part of New York City,” the guy sniffed and replied, “Barely!”

  24. I was a homeowner insurance adjuster for 35 years. Up in North Portland years ago I received a claim for a Monkey Puzzle tree landing on the next door neighbors front porch roof.

    The neighbor had reported a claim and I received it and called her to get the info.

    I called our insured who said we should not pay it because there was nothing wrong with the tree.

    I called the neighbor back and she said it was clearly dead, but it had already been removed from their part of the yard and she insisted I should come because she did have proof.

    I went to her home and viewed the damage and she presented me with a picture on the front page of the Oregonian Living section of a truly awful looking, and very dead tree on the front of her home.

    With her permission I met one of our guarantee contractors at her home and we worked on an estimate of repairs together and they completed the work.

    By the way, I took that page of the neighbors picture to our insureds home that first day and showed it to her.

    She admitted that it probably looked like that and agreed that the neighbors had talked with her that it needed to have been removed, but she didn’t want to spend the money.

    Well King, that case is closed

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