Amherst Community Bids Farewell to Merry Maple Tree


Lula Miller (age 7), hugging the Merry Maple. Photo: Britt Crow-Miller

A community celebration of Amherst’s beloved “Merry Maple” tree was held on Wednesday, November 16th, the evening before it was cut down by the Town of Amherst to make way for a $1.8 million renovation of the Town Common. The tree, a Norway Maple, is thought to have been planted around 1875.

The Celebration of Life for the Merry Maple was organized by members of the Amherst Public Shade Tree Committee (APSTC), which learned of the timeline for the tree’s removal only days earlier. While the APSTC itself was split on the question of the tree’s removal at the time of their vote in August, there was consensus on the tree’s decades-long significance in the community and on the need to give people a chance to pay their final respects.

The event was attended by more than 150 people across several generations. Adults and children alike hugged the tree, made bark and leaf rubbings to remember it by, and drank warm cider under its branches. Attendees sat beneath the tree, circled around it and looked up into its branches, illuminated by candles and with the music of Shelburne Falls musician, James Bird, setting the scene. The Amherst Chamber of Commerce loaned the town’s “Letters to Santa” mailbox (updated as “Letters to the Merry Maple”) for the event and attendees used paper, pens, and markers to share their memories of the tree. The APSTC plans to display these memories and have them archived as part of a public history project related to the importance of the Merry Maple to the local community over the last century and a half.
Memories can be submitted in person to the letter box at the final Farmers Market of the year on Saturday, November 19. They can also be submitted digitally here.

More than 150 people gathered on the Amherst Town Common On November 17, 2022 to celebrate the life of the Merry Maple. Photo: Britt Crow-Miller

Event organizer Britt Crow Miller made the following remarks at the celebration:

There’s an essay by Henry David Thoreau, written here in Massachusetts well over 100 years ago in which he watches two men saw down a large pine tree.  He wrote, “A plant which it has taken two centuries to perfect, rising by slow stages into the heavens, has this afternoon ceased to exist. …Why does not the village bell sound a knell?  I hear no knell tolled.  I see no procession of mourners in the streets, or the woodland aisles.”

Grace Episcopoal Church, which has looked out on this tree since it was a sapling, has kindly allowed us to open this event by ringing their bell for the Merry Maple. Thank you for that. 

When I moved to Amherst with my family  in the summer of 2020 amidst a raging global pandemic, it was a difficult time to get to know people in our new community. So we focused on getting to know the land: the birds, the bugs, the rivers, the trees. One of those trees was the Merry Maple. Our first holiday season here, even though the annual lighting of the tree was virtual, my kids were so excited about it. They were excited about living in a town with a big, beautiful, lit up tree in the center of it, a tree with a name. The tree made Amherst feel like home.

This tree is surely many things to many people. Some of you have grown up alongside it. For decades, it has helped clean our air and sequester carbon. It has offered shade on hot days, shelter from rain, and served as a community gathering spot for rallies for social justice, for vigils, for community events. This tree holds many stories.

And this tree hasn’t been important only to us. If you look up into its branches, you’ll see the nests of birds and squirrels. This tree is part of our community in the sense described by environmental ethicist and ecologist Aldo Leopold, who said that a community is not just made up of people, but of animals, water, soil, plants. 

So when I heard that the tree was going to come down, I was upset. My kids were upset. Many of you here today may feel upset, too. I was ready to write op eds in the local papers. I was ready to cause a ruckus. I started attending the Public Shade Tree Committee meetings and I learned that the tree has been declining for some time. It has had some major limb failures in recent years and has significant decay in its main leader. It’s fate has been evaluated and discussed and debated for several years now and whether or not all of us here agree with it (and for the record, I do not), the Merry Maple will very soon transition from being a member of our community to being a memory for our community. 

I wanted to help put this event together, a celebration of life for this large, beautiful, and civically significant tree, because I want people to know–especially our young people– that trees are valuable. They’re invaluable, really. I want them to know and to remember that trees are important members of our community and that their loss impacts all of us. 

So tonight, let’s gather under the branches of this beautiful tree, the Merry Maple, one last time. Let’s enjoy snacks and music together and share the memories this tree has given us. Let’s share the stories it holds. 

But let’s also remember that we all have a say in the future of our town. If we want that future to prioritize things like maintaining and preserving large trees and creating the conditions for everyone in our community to thrive (not just trees of course, but the people who rely on them, especially as a critical weapon against climate change), that future is up to us. We must pay attention and we must get involved and we must speak up. I am grateful to this tree for reminding me of that.

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