In some ways, the position of New Canaan tree warden never became just what Bruce Pauley envisioned.
He took over the role in October 2010, in the wake of a powerful March nor’easter that snapped trees and power lines alike, and spent the first part of his tenure identifying and removing dangerous trees—rather than pruning and improving healthy ones. That unnamed winter storm was followed in succession by Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy, which set the tone for Pauley’s role as tree warden in New Canaan.
“I think we have pretty much gotten there,” Pauley said Wednesday evening, hours after notifying area tree companies that he would step down as tree warden at the end of this month. “There are always trees that have died or cracked or broken or rotted, and have to be removed, but we are reaching the point where more maintenance such as pruning can be effective in keeping the old trees we have.”
Still and all, for Pauley, a third-generation New Canaanite who is selling the Millport Avenue home he and wife Elaine bought in 1973 and moving to Vermont—and who last year sold his own tree care business—the experience of working with trees in New Canaan and serving as tree warden has been a rewarding profession and life that has connected him equally with nature as it has with fellow residents.
“I really enjoyed what I did,” Pauley said by phone from his new home, about 33 wooded acres in Plymouth, Vt. that he and Elaine purchased 20 years ago with an eye on eventually moving up full-time.
“I was very fortunate in that I didn’t have to commute to a city some place. I could pretty much wear what I wanted to wear to work—if it was hot, shorts and T-shirt and if it was cold I could put on layers. I wasn’t subject to dress codes. But more important than any of that, I could do what I wanted to do. I was outside the majority of the time, and for many years I was the guy up in the tree and it was a wonderful experience. Meeting the people that you meet, one thing I found to be universally true among all people—rich and middle income and low income—is that trees are an emotional subject. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but I think subconsciously we all somewhat relate to trees and to nature and that we have strong feelings about that, so when I am dealing with people and trees on their own properties, I felt like I was kind of handholding many times and almost consoling people when a tree was dying and I knew there was no hope for it, and looking at the bright side: Every time a big tree gets removed, you have the opportunity, on your own property at least, to plant a new one. But in many cases, you see some others that had been obscured by that one. Nature is ever-changing and it is important to recognize that and be able to accept it and live with it and embrace it, for that matter, and enjoy it.”
His retirement and relocation marks more than the end of Bruce Pauley’s tenure as tree warden: He’s the last Pauley in town. A U.S. Air Force veteran and former Center School student who has been a licensed arborist since 1975, Pauley’s own great-grandfather settled in town in the 1850s, up on North Wilton Road with a 600-acre property widely known at the time (and on maps from the era) as “Pauleyville.” His great-uncle Charlie had been tree warden, documents show, and owned a tree care business in New Canaan in the 1930s and 1940s.
Pauley said a search already is underway for his successor in the role and that it’s important for that individual to be an experienced and qualified licensed arborist in the state (“Somebody with enough experience where they will be confident in their own abilities and skills and identifying hazards, in particular, and then having the people skills to make others understand what the issues are problems are”).
Asked for what he counts among his major accomplishments in the role of tree warden, Pauley pointed to his operational plan in putting every job out to bid and so controlling the budget, as well as developing the “New Canaan Emergency Tree Response” program. Under it, area tree care companies sign up to be “on call” 24/7 for a week at a time in case of an emergency in New Canaan.
“There’s always somebody on call and I give that list t the police department, public works and basically anybody who may need to know, so that when there’s an emergency in the middle of the night or any time, the right person gets called and they have been very good,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had an issue.”
Meanwhile, Pauley’s retirement to Vermont also marks the retirement of his handsome German shepherd dog, Bheema, an animal he affectionately refers to as “Deputy Tree Warden” (“I post the trees, he marks ‘em”). Asked how Bheema likes it up in the Green Mountain State, Pauley said: “Are you kidding? We’ve got 33, 34 acres of mostly wooded areas and hills, and it’s not like there’s a fence, it is just open surrounding wooded areas. He is not prone to roam, but he has a little path and he goes out in the morning and he’s gone 10, 15 minutes down one way and comes back a completely different way and he’s just always smiling. The happiest dog I’ve ever known.”
He added: “Sort of like me and Elaine. We keep pinching each other to make sure it’s real.”