Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 08.07.13
Stanstead, Quebec


A tree croaks in Stanstead

In keeping with our domestic mouse-rescue policy and spider relocation program, my wife and I have a pretty strict pruning policy. When it comes to our plants and trees, we let it grow, we let it all hang out, we let our freak fronds fly.

Our front flower garden could best be described as "Fern Gully." Our lawn is as nature intended it -- infested with weeds and dotted with dog-pee burns. I often look out and think our driveway could use a good mow.

As for the branches overhanging the driveway, if they scrape the paint off top of the car every time we park, that's the price we pay for keeping the atmosphere flooded with the filtering goodness of photosynthesis.

We prune, pluck, and pare only as a last resort.

Which is why for years we have ignored the maple tree that, for all intents and purposes, has been dead. Or at least half dead. Half dead, half alive, like Matthew Perry's career.

We planted the tree a few years after we bought the house, and the sapling thrived. But seven years ago, a freak October snowstorm swept through the region, weighing down and in many cases snapping leaf-laden branches not yet hardened for winter. The snow splayed the three main upright limbs of our little maple, snapping one beyond salvage, twisting the other two to the ground.

We severed the snapped branch, and by late spring, the remaining limbs had begun to right themselves. The tree continued to develop but was never quite the same after that -- again, much like Matthew Perry after "Friends."

One summer saw barely any leaves sprout at all. Our neighbour, a tree specialist, came over, dug a fingernail into the bark and pronounced, "He's dead, Jim" or far less dramatic words to that effect.

But the next spring, it was back! Subsequently, it shot out desperate green shoots and clung to its leaves in the fall long after other trees had discarded theirs, as if it knew that each leaf might be its last. Two years ago, I peeled some bark away to reveal an infestation of earwigs. (Incidentally, our pest-rescue policy does not include earwigs; we are decidedly pro-smoosh when it comes to earwigs.) Last year, several branches on one of the remaining two upright limbs produced no greenery. This year, the entire limb was lifeless.

Not that we particularly cared how our property looks (with apologies to the people of Stanstead if our tree cost the town first place in Quebec's municipal flower contest -- "Ain't We Just the Prettiest," I think is the official contest name) but the tree did look ugly, so we decided to act. Did we cut it down? Of course not! Live and let leaf, we say. Instead, we opted to lop. For once, we were prone to prune.

While I'm all for maintaining and nurturing (and ignoring), there's something to be said about ripping stuff apart. In fact, I could see myself working in demolition because, honestly, what's the worst that could happen? You accidentally fix something?

So there was some satisfaction in getting the ladder and hand saw out and shearing off those dead branches. The first one especially. The second one was also good fun. By the third branch, it was starting to get old. By number four, my hand had cramped into a disfigured claw.

By the time I got to the dead upright limb, I was thinking I should borrow my neighbour's chainsaw. But never having used a chainsaw, I'd have to borrow both the chainsaw and the neighbour, and that's just embarrassing.

Instead, I began sawing away at the upright limb. Gravity, weight and my misshapen claw, however, caused the blade to jam after I was about two inches in. I figured I just needed to widen the cut a little, so I fetched my crowbar and hammer. But my other neighbours were across the street and, well, desperately hammering a crowbar into a tree you obviously can't cut? That's just embarrassing too.

I did eventually employ the crowbar method, to no effect other than making my ears ring. In the end, my solution was to keep hacking away at the limb on various sides until, using my manly, not-at-all-embarrassing brute strength, I toppled the limb to the ground.

And now, freshly pruned in accordance with house policy, the tree we won't admit is dead stands still on our pee-stained lawn, set off by burgeoning ferns and rogue lilac shoots, perhaps the ugliest, most lop-sided, saddest tree in town. And this doesn't embarrass me in the least.

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through He can be reached at