Would-be-savior stumped: A venerable tree goes down

If a tree falls in Queen Anne, will anyone hear it?

Of course.

Some people might even take pictures. That's what Jim Fielder did.

Last Wednesday, Oct. 12, the McClure Middle School math and science teacher was driving home from work when he saw unwelcome activity swirling around one of his beloved Queen Anne trees.

The object of attention was a huge, old silver maple - 75 feet high - just off the intersection at Second Avenue West and Boston Street. The landmark tree merited mention in Arthur Lee Jacobson's "Trees of Seattle."

Instead of the lyrical whisper of wind in its leaves, Fielder heard a chainsaw buzz.

"I saw a guy up there with a crane," Fielder recalled. "I thought they were just trimming it. Then I saw a huge branch fall."

Fielder said he asked the private contractors if they had a permit. They said they did but not on them, according to Fielder.

Fielder positioned himself under the remaining branches. "Someone had to stand up for the tree," he said.

The police arrived.

Fielder said one of the officers challenged him: "Don't you have a life?" she asked.

Fielder, a true-crime author on the side, not only has a life - he has a camera. He drove home and got it.

Neither Fielder's love for the old maple nor his camera were enough to stop the cutting. The city had granted a permit for the project on Sept. 30. The silver maple, nearly 100 years old, is now a moon-faced stump rising about a foot off the ground.

"This was the most graceful, most beautiful tree I've seen anywhere on the Hill," Fielder said. "It would just rustle in the wind like no other tree."

Robert Marritz is the one who paid for the felling.

Marritz, who has lived in the house next to the tree for a decade, said he had long hesitated to have the silver maple cut.

"We loved that tree," Marritz said. "It was a venerable, wonderful thing. But it's not the right tree for the city."

Marritz said the havoc the tree's root system played with his sewer system got to be too much. Even the neighbors' side-sewers were harmed, to the tune of $30,000, he said. Last June, according to Marritz, the sewer backed up into his basement. Taking care of the backup and basement cleanup and rebuild cost $20,000, he said. Plus, the sidewalk in front of his house and his retaining wall are buckled.

The tree was growing on a parking strip. As city arborist Nolan Rund-quist put it: "It's not on city property. It's a right-of-way regulated by the city. We went through a pretty extensive process."

The process included an independent report from certified arborist Tina Cohen. Cohen's report noted a history of root damage to the sidewalk, retaining wall and sewers. Additionally, while finding the trunk "solid where drilled," the report cautioned: "Expect branch failure - many cavities throughout the canopy. This species is susceptible to breaking."

Marritz noted the report offered a pruning and cabling option that would have required ongoing management and expense with liability worries in the bargain.

"There's a feeling of loss and dev-astation," Marritz said. "It's regrettable and upsetting."

Fielder, who spoke with Marritz and characterized him as a "good guy," agreed.

But it's more than just about trees, Fielder remarked.

"We live in an age where everybody loves the small screen," Fielder said. When a person stands before something like a silver maple, Fielder continued, "You can touch it. See it. Hear it. Smell it. Technology will never replace it."

Marritz said he is anxious to plant another kind of tree where the silver maple stood.

For Fielder, there is just something about silver maples, and this one in particular: "They're at peace, doing the same thing year after year," he said.

Meanwhile, Arthur Lee Jacobson is putting the final touches on an up-dated, second edition of his "Trees of Seattle."

That update won't be mentioning the silver maple at Second Avenue West and Boston Street: "I just hit the delete button," Jacobson noted.

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