The Parent Trap: That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it

I confess that I never liked the tree. Well, it’s not exactly a tree – just as big as a tree. It is only a part of my continuing dislike of this twisting stretch of plant life blocking out the side of my house. But that is not why the majority of its trunk and branches are now laying prone beside my fence.

And to be fair, it would still be standing beside my house if the suggestion of carpenter ants dining on my floorboards wasn’t put into my head. Now, I haven’t seen any carpenter ants. There’s no reason to believe that we have carpenter ants. But when an exterminator takes half of your vacation savings and drills around your house because of termites, the suggestion that any bug could eat your house naturally pricks up your ears.

“You better cut the branches off this tree,” my exterminator explained. “They’re leaning up against your house. That’s an invitation for carpenter ants.”

“It’s not really a tree,” I answered, shaking.

It is actually known as a burning bush. I found out that this moniker is only really descriptive for one month of the year. For 11 months, it sits in my yard, in various stages of green or brown. In late September, the leaves turn into brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow. But just as quickly, they fall to the ground in a slippery mess.

Yes, I admit that if given the chance, I would have ripped the entire mess to the stump. It’s an unattractive piece of vegetation that grows uncontrollably, sucks the life out of my lawn and grows so low to the ground that I have to almost stoop in half to mow the remnant of grass below its trunk. But I knew that I was doomed from the start. That’s when I was told by my wife during our first home inspection that burning bushes were “wonderful plants.”

“But it’s not a tree,” I countered. “It’s a bush that is as big as a tree. A big, ugly tree.”

“It’s not ugly – it’s sculptural,” she explained.

My opinion continues to make me an army of one. The kids, neither of whom leans toward the study of botany, even like it. So I have lived with the big ugly tree (in my opinion) by the side of my house. I have attempted to decorate it for Christmas, with little success. The large ornaments hanging from its branches constantly remind me of trying to put a tuxedo on a pig. It might be a nice suit, but it’s still a pig. A pig that might have carpenter ants. A pig that needs a trim.

Did I mention that the trunk of this tree that is not really a tree breaks in two and twists upon itself? The branches intertwine, so it’s hard to define where one ends and the other begins. Yet I was still surprised when my first swipe with a chain saw caused half of the branches to fall to the ground. I picked the wrong trunk. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Incredibly, the only branches still left standing continue to lean against the side of my house. The tree that is not a tree continues to stand by the side of the house, a forlorn reminder that I am not a lumberjack and I most certainly am not okay. In a few weeks, it will once again become a shock of fall colors, mocking my attempts to control it. And I guess that’s okay – so long as the carpenter ants stay away. But if I see one hint of a house eating pest, it’s history. Well, maybe after one more try with the Christmas decorations.

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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