Last week, I pulled into the garage without noticing that the tree that once stood taller than our house now lay across the side yard. John came home an hour later and gave me the report as I stared lamely at him. At first I couldn’t even picture what tree he was talking about…I don’t venture to that part of the yard much, I guess. (You would think we lived on 30 acres instead of a regular suburban smallish lot). But I finally figured out that I knew quite well about 5 feet of that tree, somewhere near its middle top.
It once grew majestically outside Zachary’s window, with a narrow trunk and long graceful branches that would thwap against his window in the wind or create sinister looking shadows in the night. I don’t know what kind it was, but it was a resting place for many a bird who would chirp their greetings to Zachary inside.
Zach went to his room to look. “There aren’t any branches there anymore,” he said, “That’s where the birdies were.” I thought about the birds too, but was hopeful he either wouldn’t notice, or would celebrate the fact that they wouldn’t startlingly crash into his window anymore. His sweet face looked sad, and the way he said “birdies” made me want to go buy him a pony.
John stood outside surveying the situation. The tree had fallen into a wacky corner of the yard, missing our neighbor’s fence by a few feet. The neighbor stood there too. “Now I have to look at your boring, window,” he told John with his usual charm.
The subsequent days have passed in a flurry, and the tree continues to lay there, beached. Every time the subject comes up, Zach mentions the birds. I have to stop talking about it altogether because every time I do, he flashes me his big brown puppy dog eyes, and I instinctively move toward the candy shelf for a distracting treat.
A few months ago, my parents had to have two of their three front yard trees removed, because alas, the old trees had died…suffering what I imagined a stoic and noble passing befitting of a couple of fine Modesto Ash. Now that, I did notice. I gasped when I drove up to their house for the first time without my old leafy friends there. The home base tree of my childhood, right there near the corner – gone. The hide-and-go-seek tree at the far end – dunzo. My parents have since picked out replacements, but they are baby trees, and I don’t think I could very effectively hide behind one, unless I shed a dangerous amount of LBs.
We’ve taken down diseased trees at the church, and today on my way to work, I saw what looked like a 20-man hard-hatted crew perched on some poor soul’s roof, collectively eyeballing a huge Oak tree. By the time I drove home, half of it lay in the street in front of a wood chipper.
Now, I’m eyeing the palm tree in the backyard. The wind has brought down these pieces that resemble huge pencil shavings, and frankly it looks weird standing next to the uppity, haughty redwood. There’s the orange tree in the back corner. Sure, I like the idea of a fruit tree, but I’ve never actually eaten one of its oranges. My guess is that I’m so much of a city girl that I can’t possibly imagine that any plant life that I’m responsible for could produce actual, edible fruit.
I’ve come to realize, people are weird with trees, me included, which even I find odd since I refuse to camp. Trees are scary or friendly or wise depending on what Disney movie we are watching. They serve as literary metaphors for everything from life to growth to the passing of time, and if I were more well-read, this list would undoubtedly be longer. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has been on my reading list for about 5 years, but I would be willing to bet that’s chock full of smarty pants examples.
I cannot stand that horrible book, The Giving Tree. I so loved Shel Silverstein’s provocative and intoxicating A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends, that I would memorize the poems and recite them for whoever would listen. My copies, with my name written in my 3rd grade script, sit on Jake’s shelf, and are now favorites of the boys as well. But The Giving Tree sucks big time. Spoiler alert! The kind tree gives and gives and gives until it is taken down to a stump for the selfish brat of a protagonist to sit on in his old age. The only moral I take away is don’t be awful, or you will end up tired, alone and confused on a stump.
Heck, the trees in the Bible are kind of a big deal – there was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that Adam and Eve couldn’t resist, getting them kicked out of what up until that point, had been a pretty sweet living situation. Jesus invited little Zaccheus down from his tree so they could break bread. And of course, there was Jonah. Jonah sat and waited futilely and with spite for an entire city to suffer God’s wrath. As he sat there pouting, sweating and waiting, probably still reeking of whale innards, God gave him a shade tree, which promptly withered and died. Jonah grieved and ranted and, much to God’s annoyance and utter frustration, showed more feeling for that day-old tree than he did an entire population of people. And again we learn, don’t be awful or you will end up tired, alone, and confused on a stump.