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Willow trunks

This is what remained of four giant weeping willow trees on the CUNA campus after a December removal.

When Lutheran Mutual Life Insurance Company built their wonderful new office complex on the west side of Waverly, they fully landscaped the place. Someone also had the very good idea to put in a concrete pathway connecting the back parking lot to Bremer Avenue, north of the complex. Except when chilly weather sends me to the treadmill at The W, or when there’s snow to shovel or grass to cut, I’ve been getting my daily cardio workout by walking what is now known as ‘The CUNA path.’

For the past 11 years, I’ve been walking along that path, through the natural arch created by four enormous weeping willow trees, flanking the path, two trees on either side. They seemed ancient to me, although I’m guessing they were planted only a few decades ago, when the landscaping went in.

I’ve always enjoyed seeing that mournful-looking quartet with their cord-like strands trailing earthward. And their massive trunks convinced me they were likely indestructible. But in recent months there were signs that all was not well with the willow foursome. Their trunks looked stressed. Willow strands were beginning to fall off. Around Thanksgiving time one enormous branch cracked and fell to the ground.

A few weeks ago, the inevitable happened. The landscaping crew showed up and, in a few cruel hours made short work of all four trees. One day I looked out my back window and beheld an obscene pile of enormous logs (see photo). Fittingly, I suppose, the sight made me weep.

Nothing lasts. Not even seemingly indestructible weeping willows. Actually, I knew that. But I can’t say the realization makes me feel hopeful. I want things I like to continue. And now, as we enter the year 2020, I think of what will change, in coming months. Some of it will not be welcome.

A sharp deterioration in the livability of our cosmic home comes to mind.

Unless we do something about the decline of healthy climate on our planet, we are going to be facing, sooner than we like to admit it, a catastrophe of the first order. The astrophysicists remind us that the day will come when our star, the sun, will become so hot that it will literally fry our planet. All life will cease. (The first time I heard that, I panicked, until it was explained that it may be millions, if not billions, of years down the road.) Just because our planetary home will not last — in the far and distant future — is no reason for us to hasten its decline in the short term.

I have friends who believe that climate change is no big deal. One of Iowa’s U.S. senators, in fact, has famously declared, almost as a throwaway comment, “The climate is always changing.” That statement was intended to persuade citizens not to trouble themselves with undue worry. With all due respect, the senator is out of touch with reality.

And then there are my conservative religion friends who argue that a dying planet might actually be a good thing, because then Jesus will return more quickly. To them I say, “Wake up. It’s not our job to hasten God’s supposed agenda by behaving like really bad stewards of a planet that doesn’t even belong to us.”

It’s encouraging to see how friends and neighbors, citizens and businesses, are responding to the challenge of climate change. The same insurance company that removed the weeping willows now has two amazing solar arrays (drive over and take a look at them) and has installed, in two parking lots, a total of eight charging stations for all-electric vehicles.

Nothing lasts, but we can extend the shelf life of much that we value.

Mike Sherer is a retired journalist, a freelance writer and a more-than-11-year resident of Waverly, which happens to be his wife’s hometown. He is an occasional contributor to the Waverly Newspapers.