The Pagoda Dogwoods Bloom

My mom, growing up in Arkansas loved the blooms of the dogwood each spring. We moved into our Madison home the year she passed away (2007), and the following spring we planted dogwoods in her memory. A variety that would grow in our climate. This, then, is how the Pagoda Dogwoods look this year….the blooms are phototropic.

Letter From Home “New Perch” 6/19/20

James and I could never have known a year ago how important it would be to finalize the purchasing of the rest of our home and then commence on the restoration, refurbishing, and updating that took place through the fall.  We were ecstatic that the pieces all fell into place last summer with the sale, and the electricians and folks with skills were available to make the needed changes.  The pandemic which struck this winter and has carried through into the heat of June means the additional space is of utmost importance.

I never had a treehouse as a child, and would not necessarily term the second-floor balcony as such.  However, being up among the nearby trees, green leaves, and strong branches does give me a sense of what many a child might have called a playhouse. The birds which dart about and land on the wooden sides of the balcony, while chirping incessantly does give a feeling of being in ‘their territory’. From time to time a hawk will arrive on one of the large branches of a terrace tree looking for lunch.  Sparrow type birds are always enjoying pecking around in the rain gutters, and orioles have nested somewhere near as they are always flitting about.


A year ago the balcony was in dire need of repair and refurbishing. Following power washing and some replacements, we applied wood preservative. The two coats of white primer followed by two coats of New England Blue gave it that look and feel that was truly required.  In the previous summers we had sat on the lawn and participated with all those who pass by our corner lot, but with the virus about, and too few people adhering to the advice of medical professionals, we have moved our ‘outdoor space’ to the new balcony.  Still with a view of the lake and ample sun means that we have adapted to a new normal.

And there are new pleasures.

Today the catalpa tree is in full bloom on one end of the balcony. The humidity and closeness of the air allowed for the perfumed aroma of the blooms to hang and linger about.  I do not recall another season of these blooms to have been as fragrant, or as remarkable, as this one.  In part, that is due to being so much closer to the blooms and also having a truly humid day to hold the aroma around the house.  I noted even the neighbors were enjoying the scented blooms as they sat and talked.

Of those who live in my area, and that I chat with, not one has taken to eating restaurant food or getting caught up with the gleeful delusion that many of our fellow Madisonians seem too willing to be caught up in.  We know that the pandemic of 1918 was followed by 1919.  There were three serious blows at that time from the virus.  We are not even finished with the first round in the nation as I write this post.

Therefore it is incumbent upon those who decide to be safe to find places where life can continue.  And when that spot is found smiles will follow.

I write with the afternoon smile still on my face.


City Of Madison Work Crew Refused To Work Efficiently

Also, read my blog post Grading City Employees.

A large terrace tree, directly next to the driveway of a city park,  was cut down by the City Of Madison this spring.  Over the course of the months since the tree was removed several storms had come through the area and small type limbs had been gathered from the park, and neighboring homes, to make a convenient pile for pick-up by the city.  In the isthmus area, where cars are always using street parking, having such a clear visual location for such debris is a smart idea.  In fact, over the many years, the spot alongside the tree has been the place for park limbs for pick-up from the volunteers who do that task.

Several weeks ago I had taken about six limbs off the large pile, as it was getting too big, and placed them directly on the opposite side of the park driveway.

This morning a work crew came to remove the tree stump and at the same time removed the large mound of debris that was topping it.  That debris was placed into a city truck for removal. Once that was all done, I asked a city employee working a large front loader if I could just place the rest of the limbs in the small pile into his bucket that could then be put onto the city truck for removal.

“I can not do that”.  He added the pile can sit there for six months as it is not hurting anything.

I was told that the pile needed to be picked up by a separate truck crew, at some future date, who was assigned such work.  I explained that the limbs had been on the original pile over the tree stump and had they remained he would have taken them.   Yes, he said, it would all have been removed as that was needed to remove the root.

I was just literally a few yards from the limbs to be picked up, and the front loader was just a few yards from the simple branch limbs.   I was not asking the city worker to expend any energy whatsoever as I would toss the limbs for him–all I asked was for him to then dump that front loader into the back of the city truck–also parked just a few yards from the pile of limbs.

And he refused.

I am truly confounded by the shortage of reason and logic this morning from a work crew that had sunshine on their side, a nice soft lake breeze, and even a Packer victory to smile about from the day before.   And I was the one who was going to lift the light branches!

I noticed that the crew took a coffee break and walked about the area, no doubt rubbing their pant legs on the end of the limbs of the pile that still awaits being picked up.

I have always been supportive of public employees.  My dad worked for the county, my brother for decades with the state, my nephew has worked for many years at the UW, a brother-in-law was a postmaster.  I worked in the state assembly.  I am not one to be harsh with those who work for us.

But today was off-the-chart as a city employee demonstrated purposeful arrogance and willful disregard for the obvious easy solution that presented itself.   This is why the rank-and-file citizen has a sour connotation for those who are paid by taxpayers.   That is sad as there are many, such as myself, who still fight and urge for fairness and political settlements that work in favor of public employees and their unions.

Today it does make one wonder……..

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Madison City Workers Shine


I am fully aware of the attitude many people have towards public employees.  Which is why I take a few minutes to post the following about some of Madison workers who made for a genuine smile over the past few days.

Last Tuesday I called about a tree on a terrace across the street from where I live.  For many years the large tree had been losing branches during summer storms and winter blasts.  Twice since we moved into our home lightening has hit the tree.    Each year it looked weaker and sadder.   This spring only a smattering of leaves popped out on the branches.

Within 18 hours of my calling a city worker assessed the tree, painted a yellow dot on it’s trunk, and told us it would shortly be cut down.  I truly thought it would be a fall cutting.

But today when a large truck with a cherry picker (basket) arrived at the intersection in question I had to look twice.  Once the chainsaws started I had to snap a few photos.   I was truly delighted at the speed with which the city took action on a tree what could have fallen on cars, power lines, or bikers.

It took the team about 90 minutes to cut the tree down, and then a separate crew to swoop in with two trucks and claw lift to cart the whole array of branches and trunk away.

I have long applauded the work done by city employees.  I have, over time, given most of my praise to the snow plow drivers who do their best when the weather is giving us its worst.  Today, however, I just had to post this as a way to blunt some of the criticism that too often is aimed at the ones who do their upmost to make sure the city is at its best.

Thanks to all those who took care of a tree which needed to be cut down for reasons of safety.



Madison, Wisconsin Is A Big-Little City

When people who do not live in Madison ask how I would describe the city I always mention it has state government located here, and also the highly-regarded University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.   I always end with the phrase that it is a big-little city.   Everyone seems connected to everyone else in one way or another.

Today as I sat outside with the newspapers and hot coffee a neighbor stopped by to advise me on how to cut my hydrangeas so to make them more bush-like next summer.  As we chatted she mentioned that I had spoken briefly in a prior conversation about being involved in politics. I gave a quick over-view from Door County to the statehouse and years since.  It was then she said her boyfriend, who works for a tree service company and who wrote us a nice note a year ago about wanting to make our sugar maple grow stronger, is the son of former Dane County Executive Jonathan Barry.

It was early this spring that young man used the skills of his trade to climb the now two Victorian-story tall sugar maple, which was planted the first spring we moved in, and shape it for the future.  He wanted nothing for the job other than to make the tree grow more perfectly, having watched it shoot up over the past years as he walked along to see his girlfriend.  We showed him his time meant a great deal to us, and gained a new friend in the process.

Madison is a big-little city.  That is the first point to this post.

The second point is that this young man was raised with some solid values and foundations so to grow up and show care about a tree.  A tree, in what was just a random yard, that he often walked by.  That says a great deal, too, about his parents and parenting.

Just another reason to love this city we call home.

French President Macron Clears Up Matter About Tree Missing From White House Lawn–It Was Donald Trump’s Fault

The White House would not comment this weekend about a matter many of us where talking about.

Bottom line is that Trump wanted a headline that did not include prostitutes, sex, or Russia and decided to plant a tree too soon–given the requirements that needed to be handled.

PARIS (AP) — The French president’s office says there’s nothing mysterious about the disappearance of an oak tree he planted on the White House lawn.

It was put in quarantine, like other plants or animals brought into U.S. territory.

The sapling was a gift from French President Emmanuel Macron for his state visit to U.S. President Donald Trump last week.

An official in Macron’s office said Monday that Trump insisted on holding a symbolic planting ceremony alongside Macron despite the quarantine requirement. The official said both sides knew all along that the tree would go later into quarantine.

A pale patch of grass now covers the spot.

The oak originally sprouted at the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood in northern France, where about 2,000 U.S. troops died fighting a German offensive.

Sapling Disappears From White House Lawn Five Days After Macron And Trump Planted It

So….what happened?

The tree that  Donald Trump planted with French President Emmanuel Macron is no longer on the South Lawn of the White House, instead there is a patch of discolored grass. 

The sapling, a European Sessile Oak, was a gift during the State visit of the French president and his wife. In making the gift the French president tweeted, ‘this Oak Tree  will be a reminder at the White House of these ties that bind us.’

Macron was referring to the World War I Battle of Belleau which was 100 years ago this June. 9000 US Marines were killed in the battle. 

But now the tree is gone. 

Reuters, on Saturday posted a picture of a patch of uneven, yellowed grass where the planting photo was taken.   

The White House has not commented on where the tree is now. 

Letter From Home “Maple Tree” 2/25/18

Growing up as a boy on 100 acres of land, much of it wooded, I can assure you I never thought at all about the pruning and shaping of trees.   While my dad would annually trim and maintain a very long and eye-appealing pine hedge that ran in an L shape around the contours of our large lawn, I never considered that as more than the ‘maintenance of the evergreens’.    Meanwhile, the tall and supremely giant oak trees that anchored the front lawn and behind the house were never things to even consider adjusting as they were almost forces of nature.    The sprawling towers of limbs and leaves allowed for some of the fondest memories from childhood.

The only time that I recall Dad getting anywhere near one of those oaks with a ladder was when he assisted in my determination to save some baby red squirrels that had been jostled from their nest in a wind storm.   I still recall the hearty feeding of warm milk that Mom had heated on the stove, and dad fed with an eye-dropper while holding the small creatures.  Then with care he got up into the tree with the ladder and tried to aid in helping the parents locate their young ones.  That is surely one of the best summations of the care dad had for animals.

My favorite times with those oaks were spent in their shade while reading a book.  The massive one to the south-west of our home was where James Bond first came alive as the pages of an Ian Fleming drama unfolded.  Only a few feet away was a long wide strip of flowers that mom tended, the colorful blooms seemed ever-present and at times the scent of the flowers would waft on the breezes that made the tree leaves rustle.  (Pictured above is the place I sat as a boy–and stand as a man.)

What has taken me back to those days was watching a maple tree being structurally pruned in our yard this afternoon.  It was 11 years ago this summer that I dug a truly impressive hole to allow for the root ball on a tree, which was roughly my height, to be placed in the ground.  A neighbor on the next block offered us the tree after we moved into our home, carting the large container in a wheel barrow and then assisting as we positioned it correctly into the hole.  With the love of trees that was passed down from my parents–meaning the watering and adding nutrients to the soil– the maple tree is now about 35 feet tall.

Several months ago James and I returned from Friday night shopping and noticed a note placed on our front door.  A young man–who is a forester and is named Forrest–had walked countless times by our home gazing up the tree and, while admiring it, also noted it needed to be pruned and allowed to grow in a more healthy fashion.   Today he brought over his equipment and made climbing a tree look like what it takes for me to mow under the tree–seemingly effortless moves.

At times I stop and reflect on why I find pleasure in this or that–what has created the man I am today? When I look at the maple the answer is easy to find.  That maple is one that has cast shadows in summer afternoons on the Adirondack chairs which are placed on the lawn, and which make for a perfect place to read and enjoy a cup of coffee.

So many years have passed from the boyhood home, where under another tree, I found so many pages to turn.  The pattern of my life in countless ways revolves around the simple pleasures and constant connection to the memories from yesterdays.

That is what I call being rich.