AMHERST – Gazing in awe at the great maple tree, touching the bark of its trunk and noticing how sturdy the tree looks, 7-year-old Xavi Veatch was among those saddened to say goodbye to the original Merry Maple.
“I just have a lot of memories,” Xavi said.
Accompanied by her mother Katie Veatch at the Joyful Maple’s Life Celebration on the North Common on Wednesday evening, the family understood their visit would be the last time they would see the historic tree standing.
“We’re both feeling more emotional than expected,” Veatch said.
“It holds a lot of memories for our family,” Veatch added. “I’ve thought a lot about what it would be like without the Merry Maple, and it’s hard to imagine.”
Hosted by the Amherst Public Shade Tree Committee, the farewell event saw a number of families pay their last respects to the tree, which is thought to be around 80 years old, but which some authorities say may be closer to 150, and is best known for lending its name to the annual event that kicks off the holiday season in Amherst.
The Merry Maple celebration began in 1966, was halted during the energy crisis of the 1970s, and the large tree remained lit until 1995, when a smaller tree took its place until 2014. is when the Amherst Business Improvement District reinstated the original to return to its vanguard place.
Over the summer, however, tree keeper Alan Snow and the Shade Tree Committee determined that the tree needed to be cut down to make way for a $1.8 million green space overhaul. The improvement plan, which includes the planting of a number of new trees, will remedy frequent washing and exposed roots, remove part of the pavement and create other improvements, such as the provision of new seats which will replace tree boxes made from railway sleepers.
The Merry Maple was removed throughout the day Thursday by Lyndon Tree Care, with the Spring Street parking lot closed from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. to accommodate a crane.
Before the farewell ceremony began, Shade Tree Committee member Britt Crow-Miller placed candles around the perimeter of the tree. “The idea is to have a chance to celebrate the tree and what it means to the community,” Crow-Miller said.
Crow-Miller explained that she and her family came to Amherst in 2020, amid the pandemic. They appreciate and honor the tree’s work in keeping the air clean, sequestering carbon, and overseeing peace vigils and community events.
“It was one of the trees that we connected with,” Crow-Miller said. “It’s the tree that made us feel at home. Their loss affects us all.
As children and adults climbed up to the tree, some to hug it, some to have their picture taken with it, and others to do bark rubs, letters offering their thoughts could be written and dropped off in a “happy maple letters” mailbox. station.
Using pencils to draw the tree, 8-year-old Ariela Cannon Collins also wrote a short message on the paper: “I wish you could stay forever. I will miss you.”
“Our family cherishes and absolutely loves this tree,” said Jennifer Cannon, Ariela’s mother, who said that in addition to coming to the annual event, she remembers attending dozens of gatherings of social justice on the site, seeing friends and loved ones arrested in support of various causes, all under the watchful eye of the tree.
“This tree held so many memories for thousands of people,” Cannon said.
Greyson Westort, 9, also illustrated the tree and shared his thoughts in a letter.
“We love the Merry Maple,” said Natasha Widener, Greyson’s mother, observing that the family has been attending the Merry Maple event for several years. “We are so sad that they are taking it down.”
Meg Kroeplin placed a loop of white lights on the trunk of the Merry Maple, starting with a circle, although a child then shaped the string into a heart.
“The first time I saw the Merry Maple was 35 years ago, and I’ve been back and forth ever since,” Kroeplin said. “Every phase of my life, from being a student to parenting to parenting a kid in college, punctuates making winter bearable.”
As Crow-Miller read from Henry David Thoreau about felling a tree, bells rang from Grace Episcopal Church and mournful music was played by musician James Bird.
Bird expressed his admiration for those in attendance. “Thank you for advocating for more than the human family,” Bird said.
The Merry Maple event will continue as usual on December 2, with Norway’s smallest maple being lit up this afternoon. All the usual aspects of the event, including the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band escorting Santa Claus, as well as ciders and donuts, will be part of it.
Chamber Executive Director Claudia Pazmany purchased the “Letters to the Happy Maple” mailbox, noting that the public will have another opportunity to offer their written comments at the final Amherst Farmers’ Market on Saturday. Pazmany said the hope is that the reflections will be displayed publicly and then become part of an archive, possibly in special collections at the Jones Library.
For 35 of his 39 years as a middle school and college teacher, David Ranen led the Amherst Regional Middle School Chorus, which continues to perform annually at the Merry Maple from the steps of City Hall.
During the farewell celebration, Ranen said it was appropriate for the community to come together to honor the life of the tree. “I’m very happy they’re doing this,” Ranen said.
Some of the wood from the cheerful maple is meant to be left so that ideas such as creating a bench can come to fruition. After one of the beloved twin trees atop Mount Pollux was removed, a piece of wood was fashioned into the hammer used by the President of the City Council.
Among the mourners in attendance was Adrian Stair, who said she had come to terms with the fate of the Merry Maple after attending the tree hearing over the summer. Stair gave the tree a final hug.
“I’m here more from an Earth perspective,” Hatfield’s Suzanne Delaney said, recalling participating in drumming and dancing circles as she climbed up to the tree to shower him with affection. “I know this tree has supported bodies above and below, and I think we need to pay homage to the fact that she is a sacred being.”
Scott Merzbach can be contacted at [email protected]