A Norway maple remembers

A Norway maple was planted on the Les and Derele’s front lawn in 1963. Here it is in 1964.

By Derele and Les Scharfe

Let me introduce myself. I’m a Norway maple tree, quite tall now, and I live on the front lawn of Derele and Les’s home on Fourth Avenue. Been there for about 60 years, and what a fascinating journey it’s been. There are a few stories I could tell you.

My life began as a misdirected seed that fell into the flower garden among the peonies and poppies. I don’t know who my parents were, so I guess that qualifies me as a Love Tree. I grew quickly, hiding among the blooms until the day I was discovered by Les. “Oh, oh, the jig is up,” I thought, but he exclaimed “What a lovely little tree! This fellow is moving to the front lawn.” So here I am.

It was 1963, and I must tell you that growing up was not easy. My new home was close to the sidewalk, and I was just a wee sapling. Naturally I became a “pee stop” for all my furry friends walking their owners around the avenues. School kids on their way to Mutchmor and Corpus Christi giggled and gleefully swung round and round my tiny trunk. Fun for them, but…

In winter, snow blowers howled and clattered their way along the street disgorging snow, ice, salt and slush – a nourishing mixture for little trees? It was a cold and nasty ordeal. The winter of 1970 was a humdinger, as it never stopped snowing; snow piled up to my ying-yang. Les and Derele received a “certificate of survival” from the City of Ottawa – why them? It was me who stood in 171.4 inches of snow that winter! Satisfaction came when Les had to shovel that long laneway almost every evening. Learned a few new words that winter!

The Norway maple survived the great Ice Storm of 1998 that destroyed so many trees.

The ice storm cometh

But the worst was yet to come. The big ice storm of 1998 was horrendous. My limbs were covered with thick ice and bent dangerously. “Snap! Oh, oh, there goes another one.” One of my longest limbs succumbed to the weight and crashed to the ground just a few minutes after the Jeep parked in the laneway was moved. What a sight – live power lines on Fourth Avenue, a very dangerous situation until the lines were quickly disabled by Ottawa Hydro. Throughout the ice storm, I was terrified. Thinking back, people were helping each other, trying to find normal again. It was a heart-warming scene.

Disruption of the street in 2007 due to sewer replacement was a dangerous time for the maple, but it managed to survive with some help. Photos: D Scharfe

Fourth Avenue torn apart

One Sunday morning in 2007, I woke to the calm sounds of a cardinal singing among my branches. Suddenly a large flatbed appeared from around the corner, followed by a troupe of heavy equipment ready to do battle. The cardinal wanted none of this and flew away. Les and Derele appeared on the front veranda with an unsettled look. “It’s the City,” he said as he walked across the lawn towards me and patted my trunk. “Good luck ol’ friend.”

A major project was about to begin: removal and replacement of water and sewer pipes, restoration of the street and sidewalks. This would be a long and disruptive exercise, particularly for trees with long and shallow roots. That was me! But thanks to Les and the city supervisor, trenching on the lawn was conducted with more care than usual. If you walk past me, you will notice a slight indentation in the sidewalk, which was done to protect my main supporting and feeder root. Happy to say that the cardinal soon returned.

The future beckons

Many years have passed, it is now 2022, and I have been given this opportunity to recall the circle of time on our street. Hey, stop the press! I’ve just learned that we have new little trees on our street. Thanks to a kind neighbour and the City of Ottawa, we have nine saplings recently planted next to the Mutchmor playing field. They are likely quite bewildered and frightened in their new environment, so please welcome them and make them feel at home. Try to give them the protection that they will need until they’re established.

I, as their elder, will do my best to provide comfort and advice as they become a welcome part of our neighbourhood. Just like Les and Derele took care of me!

Derele and Les Scharfe are long-time residents of Fourth Avenue in the Glebe.

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