SOUTH PORTLAND — When Stephen Romano was about 10 years old, he planted three trees on Evans Street with his father.
One of those trees was a Colorado blue spruce, which grew to 55 feet tall over the last half century.
Last Thursday, 63-year-old Romano was among a crowd of about two dozen people who gathered to watch crews from Portland’s Forestry Department cut down the tree, so it can be decorated and displayed in Monument Square.
“I’m not a real emotional person, but my mother is,” said Romano, who was shooting video of the action. “So I do it for her.”
Portland City Arborist Jeff Tarling said the city looked at more than 20 trees before picking a winner. The spruce didn’t have any noticeable gaps and was the perfect width – about 25 feet – for transporting into the city.
But the tree at 89 Evans St. was never offered to the city by the current homeowners, Allen and Lori Huff, so initially it wasn’t even on the list.
Tarling said he was on his way back from looking at the likely winner in Cape Elizabeth, when he saw the tall, well-shaped spruce.
He decided to stop and ask the Huffs if they’d be interested in donating the tree to the city.
“It will look beautiful when adorned with lights in Monument Square,” he said he told them.
Lori Huff said she and her husband were happy to oblige. The couple had considered cutting down the tree about 10 years ago, but it would have cost more than $3,000.
During a storm last year, the Huffs knew something had to be done.
“We were watching it sway back and forth,” she said. “I honestly thought it was going to fall on my roof.”
South Portland police closed off Evans Street at about 9:15 a.m., as workers began stabilizing a crane. A worker was hoisted in a bucket truck about three quarters of the way up the tree to fasten the “choker,” which would keep the tree upright once the trunk was cut.
Portland forestry Supervisor Charlie Shannon Jr. has been cutting down trees for Monument Square for more than 30 years. He said crews take every precaution to avoid power lines and mishaps when cutting and moving trees.
“None of them are (easy),” he said, estimating the Evans Street tree weighed about seven tons because of moisture. “You’ve got power lines here. You never can tell (what might happen).”
About 32 years ago, Shannon recalled, things went badly while cutting down a tree in South Portland. After the base had been cut, the choker snapped as crews were moving the tree towards the flatbed.
“The choker broke and the tree actually crashed to the ground,” Shannon said. “It fell right on the yard, but no one was hurt.”
Luckily, there were no such mishaps last week. Shannon fired up the chainsaw at around 9:30 a.m. and sliced through the base in only a couple of minutes.
The tree gently lumbered towards the yellow, single story home, eliciting a nervous shriek from Huff.
As the tree was lifted from the stump, she joked, “I changed my mind.”
Crews lowered the bottom of the tree near the cabin of the tractor trailer truck, which slowly drove forward, causing the tree to gently lay down.
As crews prepared the tree for its journey to Monument Square via Evans Street, Broadway, the Casco Bay Bridge, Commercial Street, Franklin Street and Congress Street, Huff was busy making a to-do list for her yard.
She said she plans to build a fence to mask a now-exposed shed. She must also replant her front flower garden, which by necessity was filled with shade plants, but will now receive more light.
She was also confident that the blue jays and cardinals that once called the tree home would nest in another nearby spruce.
The Huffs plan attending the Nov.25 tree lighting in Portland.
“I’ve only been once in my life,” she said. “This will be fun to do.”
Tarling said after the holidays, the tree will be sawed into pieces and turned into mulch that will be used in Portland’s flower gardens.
PORTLAND — The city’s annual tree-lighting ceremony will take place Friday, Nov. 25, starting at 5:30 p.m, in Monument Square.
The Portland Downtown District-sponsored event will feature live entertainment by Rick Charette and the Bubblegum Band and the Maine State Ballet.
More than 1,500 LED lights will be turned on by a child representing the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which helps kids with life-threatening illnesses.
For more information, go to PortlandMaine.com.