We were sold on this house the moment we saw the old oak tree that had gracefully welcomed the house to be planted around it. It had bubbled up from the ground more than 60 years ago, and the roots still roiled the soil around the massive base of the trunk. It tapered slightly to the right, giving it the appearance of a much taller tree. The canopy spread as far as the boundary of our yard. All manner of suburban wildlife lived in the tree, and now in our quiet life, Tom and I delighted in our outdoor classroom — squirrels on the prowl for mates, the mockingbird ‘s officious patrols; the rabbits and their new families; the mangy doe and her twin fawns in the early mornings when the acorns are plenty. A fox and a hawk circled occasionally, looking for baby bunnies and chipmunks.
The tree’s roots became soft and a hole grew at the very base, large enough for small animals to burrow in. We weren’t worried knowing that the tree generously made space for so many living things, including our children and our funny little dog, and also for inanimate things like swings and Christmas lights. Finally that hole caused branches to die, giving themselves over to insects, which in turn became food for the woodpeckers, the brightly colored ghouls.
Had the tree fallen in a storm, it would have destroyed the back of our neighbor’s house and the evergreens along her fence. We made a painful decision to have it removed. I wonder if it was painful because of our older age, or because of these strange times we now live in. Would I have mourned the tree when I was a 35 year old mother of young children who could finally use the yard for pick-up softball games? I didn’t have the time for quiet watching back then. Now I have solitude and the daily lesson of impermanence. I am so thankful for the sustenance and protection this tree gave me and my family.
Seems cruel to mourn a tree when there is so much human suffering now. Perhaps my grief is displaced. Looking at the arbor of our communal life, I see vulnerability for the first time. I wonder if we can count on the harvest of goodwill, common good or democracy.
I’m working with verticality in my teaching practice this week. Stand tall, witness from the root of your being. Rise to give sustenance, protection, especially in a storm. Live for others. Think long term, like the trees.