I recently had the opportunity to interview Superwoman Vikki Munroe. On normal weekdays, Vikki is the owner of and professional coach with Opening Doors Coaching. Which, in my personal experience, involves more than a superpower or two.

The story of Vikki acquiring even more superpowers began a month ago.

The Backstory

Vikki has a house in Massachusetts and a second home near Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. She’s had the lake house since Labor Day, 2001 and before that, rented for 11 years in the area; her husband’s family has always had a home there.

Vikki’s lake house is on a tree-lined private road shared with eight other houses. For the last 30 years, these homeowners have paid $100 a year to keep the road maintained. When the person who had always been responsible for managing this fund passed away, another neighbor stepped up, appointed himself as treasurer of the association, and assigned two other men to serve on the association’s “road board” with him. A meeting was scheduled for March 12th.

An Accident with, Perhaps, a Silver Lining

Vikki was planning to be on that March 12th Zoom meeting from Massachusetts. However, on March 12th, Vikki’s vehicle hit a piece of plywood on the highway. She did not make it home for the call. Her husband was able to be on the call.

Once she got home on the 12th, Vikki left a voicemail with the man in charge of road maintenance–the man she was to come to refer to as “Mr. Grumpy Pants”–and e-mailed him requesting the minutes of the meeting she had missed.

The Minutes vs. the Attachment

When she received an e-mail in response, Vikki read the minutes. The minutes stated that a tree service company would be pruning trees back from the private road.

However, when Vikki opened the tree service’s attached invoice, it stated that the tree service would be cutting “20 feet in” (from the roadway)–on both sides of the road–and “30 feet up” (from the ground). So, in other words, if there were a mature tree, say with its trunk 22 feet in from the edge of the road, but with half of its crown growing into the 20 feet area, the tree service would cut the tree’s crown so that nothing hung lower than 30 feet above the entire area of 20 feet from the entire length of the road.

Imagine this: a road has a minimum width of 10 feet. Add 20 feet on both sides of the road. The sum is a 50-foot strip of deforestation. Exactly equal to the minimum width of a runway at a public-use airport.

The Beginning

Vikki recounted to me the conversation she had with her husband about her concerns on the evening of March 12th:

“Have you reviewed what they’re doing?” she asked him.


“I have some massive concerns. They’re going 20 feet into the woods from the road and 30 feet up.”

His response was “Oh no, they’re just pruning.”

She suggested he open the invoice attached to the minutes, which apparently–and conveniently–had not been a part of the discussion at the meeting.

Vikki began laying out her argument, “That’s all of our shade. They’re going to take that tree down that we picnicked under for 30 years. . . . We have relationships with particular trees on the road.”

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

Vikki reached back out to Mr. Grumpy Pants on the next day, the 13th.

He said the upcoming maintenance was really no big deal; money hadn’t been spent for a number of years. The plan was to just clean up the road by pruning a couple of branches.

She drew his attention to the fact that the minutes stated the intent was to prune but the invoice stated the removal of all the trees 20 feet from the edge of the road and 30 feet up and said, “I need to have a better understanding.”

“Oh, well” he replied, “That’s just languaging.”

“That’s not acceptable. If it’s just ‘languaging,’ then I need the language on the invoice to be changed.”

An Escalation

Vikki reported that as she asked Mr. Grumpy Pants more questions, he became very angry.

Ever the good coach, she noted, “Wow, you sound very angry.”

“I don’t appreciate being accused.”

“It’s not clear to me what you feel you’re being accused of. I’m asking questions. Is it okay for me to be asking questions?”

Mr. Grumpy Pants then told Vikki that the town’s Department of Public Works (DPW) was complaining that they couldn’t get emergency vehicles down the road, and they were initiating this action.

Vikki asked how Mr. Grumpy Pants had learned of the town’s concerns.

Mr. Grumpy Pants claimed he had received a letter from them.

Vikki responded that she’d love to see a copy of that letter.

“Oh, well, the letter got lost,” was his reply.

But There Was More to the Story

In order to get to their private road, the homeowners drive through a condominium development on the development’s roads.

Originally, Mr. Grumpy Pants had informed the condominium’s association that they would need to pay to trim back their trees near the last condo building where the private road begins.

The condo association refused, as beyond their last condo was nothing but the private road. If they were being asked to pay for this, they suggested, perhaps they needed to ask the private-road people to contribute to the assessment to pay for the condo’s roads, the roads which the private-road people use in order to get to their own road.

Mr. Grumpy Pants then changed his tune, assuring the condo association president that the private-road people would take care of the pruning at the end of the condo association’s road.

The president of the condo association had Mr. Grumpy Pants confirm that the tree service would just be pruning the trees by their last condo building.

What Vikki Chose Not to Reveal

Vikki paused in her story. “I didn’t share with Mr. Grumpy Pants at the time that I happen to be very good friends–old friends–with the president of the condo association.

“Instead, I tried to work it out with Mr. Grumpy Pants first. I was trying to figure out how much time I had. Because maybe I could go to people on my street and start rallying them. And see how they felt about it. I was curious. Had other people, like my husband, not opened the invoice?”

Did anyone else, besides Vikki, know the plan involved more than pruning?

Vikki reminded Mr. Grumpy Pants that the minutes stated that he would notify the homeowners when the tree company was beginning the work.

6:48 a.m., March 14th

At 6:48 the next morning, Vikki got an e-mail saying the work was starting that day. So she drove the two hours north to her lake home.

She began recounting her day, “I called the Department of Public Works and left six or seven messages.

“I called the tree company that had been hired to do the work and asked to have a conversation with them. I spoke to the owner’s wife, who said she would get back to me.”

The tree company did not show up that day. Mr. Grumpy Pants sent out an e-mail saying he was on vacation and that the tree company would be coming out the next day.

So Vikki continued trying to work things out. She called Mr. Grumpy Pants and asked when she’d receive 1) the bylaws of the association and 2) the adjusted invoice stating a) that the trees would only be pruned and b) what exactly the extent of the pruning would be.

His e-mail response? “Need I remind you I am on vacation?”

Vikki’s Response?

“After his ‘need I remind you,’ I was done.”

So that same day, Vikki continued working the phone, seeking help and support, calling:

She told everyone what was going on and that it was happening now.

Then she sent out 30 e-mails. First, followups to the organizations she had called. Then to her town. And the condominium association of the development through which the private road was accessed.

And then to as many organizations made up of people who she thought might have a stake in the situation, including, but not limited to:

On every e-mail she sent, she copied all the private-road homeowners.

The Call

“Finally,” Vikki said, “I called my old friend, the president of the condo association, at home and said, ‘I’m a little unclear. Could you please bring me up to date with what’s happening with the road?'”

He explained the background of his agreement with Mr. Grumpy Pants.

Then she told him she was a little surprised, given that people in his association were sensitive about trees, that he would agree to have trees removed 20 feet in and cut 30 feet up.

He said, “Oh, that’s not what they’re doing.”

She texted him the invoice.

At that point, she noticed he got a little alarmed.

And that was when Vikki shared with him the other reason Mr. Grumpy Pants’s had given as to why the tree removal was being done. The reason other than: “It needs to be done for the safety of the neighbors.” Mr. Grumpy Pants had claimed that the other reason was that the culverts of the condominium development were not working properly, and the trees needed to be removed so drastically so that the road could be lifted . . .

Vikki’s friend said that was a lie. All the culverts had been tested; all had passed inspection. Then said he needed to go and make some calls. Before hanging up he asked Vikki what she needed.

“I just want to save my trees,” she replied.

He said he would get the maintenance person on the staff of the condo association to manage the project and be with the tree people while they were doing the job.

“The Tree-Lover”

The next day, when the tree service crew arrived, Vikki recounts, “I befriended every tree-worker. I brought them coffee, hot chocolate. I baked. I became known as the “tree-lover.” They promised me they wouldn’t take any particular tree. I watched. They were extremely respectful.

5 feet in and 7 feet up

That same day that the project was being completed, Mr. Grumpy Pants sent out an e-mail notification, “It looks like it’s not necessary to take as many trees down as we thought.” And attached was the amended invoice: “5 feet in and 7 feet up.”

Vikki’s road is between a quarter and a half a mile long between two cul-de-sacs. I can’t do the math, can’t say how many trees might have ended up being removed from those woods, but I can look out my front window and see what 5 feet of land looks like compared to 20, what 7 feet of air looks like compared to 30. I can imagine how many trees and limbs of trees might have been saved.

I’m respecting Vikki’s privacy by not identifying the road, but I know its name. I have gone on Google Maps and seen the trees that surround this small private road, a road, a road so narrow two cars cannot pass on it, but the trees can span it.

More Than Shade

Since our interview last week, Vikki e-mailed that she’s been thinking a lot more about how trees fit into her life and how they are a part of each and every day for her. She wrote:

“The particular trees that we spoke about at [our] New Hampshire [Lake House] have a lot of connections to my children when they were seven and eight, whether [the tree’s windfall] be for snowman arms [or the] twigs we’ve used to make s’mores on an outdoor fire by the lake.

“A grouping of trees which [appear to be] five . . . are connected at the base and spread off in different directions. [These] . . . are known as the Five Sister Trees, which mimic me and my own sisters. 

“. . . Both bald eagles and golden eagles have nested in these woods. And I’ve watched a barred owl for many years. My children have collected its pellets. [My now-grown] children were talking this Easter about catching fireflies and the many nights of hide-and-go-seek. Their collections of leaves, or ‘leibs,’ as Rachel called them. At Easter, we would blow eggs empty, color or paint them, and collect branches to hang them off of. And every fall, make wax-paper leaf art. 

Here, “there are many beech, black locusts and honey locusts, red pine, aspen, heart-leafed white birch, elm, [black] gum, maple, ash, Eastern white pine, and spruce. [Trees]  too many to name. . . . I read recently there are 86 tree species native to New Hampshire.”

Vikki’s right. New Hampshire has 86 native tree species. (Michigan has over 75 native tree species. How many do you know?) I wonder how many members of different species are among the trees she saved.

Who is Vikki When She’s Not Saving Trees?

Vikki Munroe was recently featured in the story “Destinations: Relax and Renew” in the January-February issue of Harvard Magazine:

“If you need a bigger jumpstart [than a spa retreat], consider working with a certified life coach. (Look for one accredited by the International Coaching Federation.) In nearby Concord, candid and approachable Vikki Munroe, owner of Opening Doors Coaching (www.openingdoorscoach.com), is one of the most coveted. She guides clients toward professional fulfillment not through networking or achievement-oriented goals but by identifying their deepest personal beliefs.

The past few years have called upon all of us to cultivate our resilience. To improve health and wellness when making career decisions—clarify, focus, and incorporate your purpose and core values,” she says.

Harvard Magazine feature by Kara Baskin

Q: What are your deepest personal beliefs about trees?

Vikki, single-handedly, in the course of one day of calls and e-mails saved many trees, which–whether or not the homeowners on her lake-house road realize it–provide the humans living among them with many health and wellness benefits*.

Have you ever been faced with a threat to trees that you count among your acquaintances? What did you do? What might you do should you be faced with such a threat in the future?

*(You can garner a comprehensive list of physical, mental, emotional, and financial benefits trees provide humans by checking out the first page of each chapter of the online companion to Divining: A Memoir in Trees: More Tree Info.)