Sunday, July 17, 2016
Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend
For years the tree stood next to the east side of the house. I don't know what span of years the old aspen had seen before we arrived in the fall of 1999. No doubt it had been there as long as the house, perhaps longer, the house having been built in the mid-80s. I would put its age at over 40 years. Not an old tree as trees go. But old enough.
When we first moved in, October it was, it stood outside The Nuke's bedroom and I paid scant attention to it. Then when the summer of 2000 arrived, I became very familiar with this tree. She (he?) had one branch very low to the ground under which I had to duck to get through while mowing the grass. The Missus Herself asked, "Why don't you just cut that branch off?" I indicated that it was no trouble to duck under it, I don't like cutting branches from trees unless it's absolutely necessary. Do harm to as little as possible while making my short way through this world to the next is how I like to think of it.
But I made do. On the hottest days, I could rest in her shade, listening to the hot wind rustling her leaves, it's a sound I came to love over the years.
One day our old pastor came by and took an immediate interest in the tree, Pastor Fred was always a good judge of character. He took a leaf from her and went to his car. Pulling out his book of trees (he had one on birds in his car as well) he looked through, comparing that leaf to the pictures in his book until he found what he was looking for.
"It's a saw-toothed aspen!*" Fred was always gleeful when he found the answer to some small question in life. He was pretty good at the really big questions in life as well. (He's been gone since '08, it still startles The Missus Herself and me to realize just how much we miss that man. His smile, his never ending quest for knowledge in all things, big and small.)
After The Nuke went off to college, and then out into the world, The Missus Herself moved my computer room to The Nuke's old bedroom. I could sit at the computer and listen to that old tree's leaves rustling. They were always whispering some secret which I thought, if I but listened carefully and cleared my mind of human things, I might be able to understand. Though I tried, I never discerned her message in those long years.
In the dark of winter's chill, her branches would rattle and sway in the hard wind that came in off Narragansett Bay. But she stood strong, seeming to smile when the ice and cold would relent and the western sun would peek out from under the lowering clouds, she seemed to be saying, "I'm still here..."
As the years went by she started to lose her luster. Last year the southern side of the tree never sprouted leaves. That side never recovered. The Missus Herself started saying that she would have to come down, before she fell.
It was one of those things that was on the "to do" list for this summer. As she straddled the property line I realized that I needed to talk with the neighbors. It's not something I could decide to do unilaterally. I always thought of that tree as shared. Not mine, not anybody's property but she lived on two properties, it had to be a joint decision.
So I knew this summer would be her last. I would often just sit quietly of an evening and listen to her whispering in the wind. Wondering how it would be, how I would feel once she was gone. I was loathe to have that time arrive.
But arrive it did, through no decision of man, but Nature decided as she often will. A large, powerful storm moved through on Friday. I was at work, The Missus Herself out in California, so no one saw it happen. But the neighbor and I could see what had possibly transpired.
So I came home Friday to this -
From the looks of it a powerful micro-burst had hit her, knocking her over without even a by-your-leave. From there the wind had hit the side of the neighbor's house and then moved to the north, destroying his small corn crop and his potato plants.
The damage, though pricey, was minor. All of it to the neighbor's house, the tree had pulled the power and phone lines down, though they were still connected.
Saturday morning they came for her. Sleep was impossible as the sound of chain saws and a wood chipper echoed through the neighborhood. Oddly enough, it didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. It was her time. I knew it was coming but in a way I'm glad I didn't have to make that decision. God took care of it for me, taking her home to be with Him.
What? You don't think there are trees in Heaven? Of course there are.
Still and all I shall miss that lovely tree with the whispering, rustling leaves. Filling the silence of an evening with their ancient tales of who knows what. Only another tree would understand.
But never forgotten.
Again I ask...
Who weeps for a tree?
* Populus grandidentata, commonly called large-tooth, big-tooth, American aspen, white poplar, or several other names (saw-tooth being another), is a deciduous tree native to eastern North America. And, once upon a time, my yard.