Our house is distinguished by two enormous bushes that sit at the top of the walkway leading into our front door. They resemble monster green mushrooms. The first time my mother came to visit she peered into the web of branches that held up their mushroom cap tops and said, “These are yews.” She stepped back and looked at them again. “Canadian yews. Very common actually but I’ve never seen any that looked like this.”
The reason being is yews aren’t known for their height but rather their girth. One rarely sees the base branches unless they’re raking leaves out from underneath or trying to catch a hiding cat. Cats would never think to hide in our yews because of the exposure. Our yews stand close to nine feet high, spread out over six feet in diameter and have an almost sculptural trunk of intertwining branches that my daughter used to sit inside like a nest through elementary school. These two yews look more like props on a Star Trek set than bushes framing an exurban yard.
The two yews have two purposes; decoration, which they really aren’t unless we were vying to be an applicant in a Better Homes and Garden makeover or as camouflage. The yews add a modicum of privacy but they also block out a nice view of our home. It seems covered up. These two purposes provide two perspectives; mine and Rob’s. These alternate points of view and have created a long lasting battle about the fate of these phantom bushes. To cut them down or let them be.
Let’s be fair, the yews have gone rogue. They’ve been growing on their own path without the supervision or care of an attentive homeowner for over thirty years and it’s too late to change their present course without an extreme intervention. The only care they receive now is an annual haircut that takes half a day and two people trying to reach the top while teetering on the edge of a step ladder sinking into the pachysandra. We avoid this task until we can no longer walk down the steps without having branches scrape our faces. Spiders like to start in one yew and spin their web across the sidewalk to the other one. A trip to pick up the morning paper can result in spider web strands smeared across your face.
Last summer during our annual trimming event we stopped random people walking past our house and polled them about the fate of the yews. The results shook down along gender lines. Women seemed to be instantly in favor of getting the chain saw out and men took a more studied approach. They either saw the work it would involve removing them or actually thought they looked “kinda cool,” which was the common response.
“What are you going to put there instead?” one neighbor asked.
“Uh, different bushes.”
“Not sure what that will look like.”
“Well it will look better than this, that’s for sure.”
“Nothings for sure.”
One person felt it was a bird habitat and they should stay put on those grounds alone.
“We have a lot of other trees for the birds,” I offered.
“Not the birds that like these trees,” they countered.
“They’re not trees! They’re bushes.”
“They look like trees.”
I stop asking people. After all it’s not up to them and if I lived here alone the bushes would have been toast a decade earlier. I change my tact and call a professional tree man.
“You’re gonna lose a lot of privacy.”
Rob agrees. “That’s what I think.”
“We can put in different bushes. Better bushes,” I say.
He clicks his tongue. “A normal yew has a huge root ball,” the tree man says. “I can only envision the size of these babies.” He shakes his head slowly which is code for money. The slower the shake the more it’s going to cost. “I never saw anything like them,” he says as he cranes his head back.
This much is clear. Removing them will not be easy and it certainly won’t be cheap and in the end it may not be much of an improvement. Sometimes the only way we can distinguish ourselves is by the one thing we have spent our whole lives trying to avoid. A lot of things in life are like that.