Trees and Memories
One night lightening killed a friend. All right, my friend was a tree. Lightening struck the large maple beside our driveway and I knew I was losing something special. Red-bellied woodpeckers lived in a hole in that tree which doubled my love for that gorgeous maple tree. After the lightening damage, we were persuaded that the tree had to come down. It wasn’t safe. So with great sorrow we watched as the tree crew brought that beauty down chunk by chunk. I bade farewell with sorrow.
Trees evoke memories that crawl into my consciousness and enlighten my future. Through out my life, certain trees continue to engage my memories like pegs on a calendar.
Trees provide magical feasts for my eyes. Trees beckon me to pay attention. Is the wind whipping the leaves on every branch today? Or has a calm settled unto the leafy crowns? Trees inform me of my day with a whisper of what it is like out there. Is it hiking weather, stay indoors and read a book time, or a new task occasion? With myriad shades of green in spring and summer, trees spread comfort in my mind as well as shade for my body. Then in the fall the bursts of orange, yellow and red excite my imagination.
Certain people play the role of whispering in my ear and informing my choices. I call these folks my meditative council. They are the ones, sometimes invited, but often unbidden, who speak wisdom whether I think I need it or not. Sparks in my thinking may come from both folks out of the past or ones I know today. A diverse bunch of folks, both dead and alive, this council includes the voices of mentors, authors, movers and shakers, friends and strangers. As I travel life’s many faceted roads, these people frequently serve up wisdom that informs my decisions.
But, trees and memories? How do trees play this role? Certain trees have been more special than others through my life. As each spring approaches, wonder again fills my being as new leaves set in motion their journey to maturity. And I remember.
My memory returns to the trees I have considered friends. In the 1930’s and 40’s, the poplar tree by the driveway at 119 North B supplied the switches that our father applied to our bare legs. To this day, I never see a poplar tree without being reminded of my sister’s and my (minor) transgressions. Called child abuse today, these switches across our legs never hurt anything but our pride. Standing on our back stoop to make it easier for our father, these switches only stung a bit, but they called us to account. Memories of our father who wanted us to live up to the “perfect children” image he had of us accompany the sight of a poplar tree.
A textbook perfect oak tree in the middle of our back yard in Lake Forest, Illinois became a dear friend in the 70’s. I loved to gaze on its slowly opening leaves in the spring and its colors each fall. However, one day as I stepped out on the deck, I looked up to see our nine-year-old daughter waving from the top of the tree. I gasped and managed to croak in fear, “Mary, what are you doing? Come down from there, be careful.” I dearly loved that tree, but I might have crossed it off my list if she had fallen rather than successfully climbed down.
Southeast of Lima, Peru an olive tree hanging over the outhouse served as a feeding station for a flock of warblers. Working for a month in a village project, our daughter, Mary (by then a freshman in high school) and I used that outhouse often. Every day as I watched this feathery leafed tree and listened to the birds, I anticipated them singing in our yard in Illinois during spring migration. It seemed that that olive tree was a partner of our olive at home. The reminder of being linked beyond my own yard always returns with the migrating birds.
For two years in Evanston, Illinois, a large burr oak in our back yard provided worms for warblers as they followed their migration pattern north. It became a daily ritual to sit and enjoy the warblers from my second floor sewing room. During May (the month of migration), too many hours of my life vanished in communion with that tree and its visitors.
When the Santa Fe Railroad transferred my husband to Kansas City in 1982, I knew trees needed to play as vital a role in our house search as kitchens and bedrooms.
The first view of our home on Tomahawk Road was on Good Friday. A light snow drifting through the air added to the magic as I opened the sun porch door. Five male cardinals were popping in and out of the tall linden tree in the corner of the yard. “This is it,” I announced. Only then did I go inside to look at the rooms. That linden tree has remained an anchor in my love for our backyard.
Five river birches replaced the maple that died in the lightening strike several years ago. Maybe it is too soon to savor their beauty. However, they have filled that space with their silvery-gray shaggy bark and medium-green leaves. These river birches are a constant reminder of what matters in my life. Those trees have filled that space so rapidly; they give me a sense of accelerated time. I am reminded that time is fleeting…even mine.