Yesterday a tree fell in our yard and I didn’t hear it.
Of course I didn’t – I was here in Switzerland, thousands of miles away from home. But I felt the impact, I can tell you.
Our son called to tell us about a huge thunderstorm in Durham and he walked us through the damage limb-by-limb. It was actually our neighbor’s one-hundred-year-old oak that fell, but it crashed across their driveway and crushed against our silver maple tree. My silver maple tree. The one I planted years ago in the barren, moonscape front yard we inherited when we bought the old house.
Last night I lay in bed unable to sleep. I kept seeing the thin, papery bark on my tree – gouged and shaken.
I remember choosing that 3 foot tall sapling, a bit skeptical that it would thrive, and if it did, I was certain that it would take too long for us to enjoy its maturity. Well I was wrong because that thing grew – it grew like a weed, like a laboratory monster.
Through the years – middle school and high school, college – one of the kids’ friends would never fail to ask me – is that the same little tree? Has it always been that big??
At first, it was a needy thing – I watered it faithfully in the punishing summer heat. I tied string to its thin arms not too tightly(!) and staked it so it wouldn’t have tree scoliosis.
And I scolded Oliver the cat when he dug up the voles nearby, too close to the roots — No no, big boy.
The trunk became thicker and then eventually it could hold the bird feeder without leaning over. I stopped worrying about its demise every time a squirrel scratched his teeth on the trunk. The roots began to extend deep beneath the garden and clawed under the sidewalk, cracking the pieces of cement in its gnarled fingers.
The main reason I chose the silver maple variety was for the showy, deciduous foliage. In the South, maples are a bit uncommon, and I really yearned for the good old New England red/orange/yellow palette for the Fall. So that eventually our annual Halloween graveyard would look seasonal under the flame colored leaves.
At Christmas, every year the lights had to be strung higher and higher – at the beginning the kids looped the strands gingerly between the tender, stick-like branches.
And a few years later, with Lewis swaying dangerously on Mac’s shoulders, they strained to reach skyward.
And then, most recently, using the long -poled extension tree trimmer, narrowly avoiding electrocution and severed hands in the process. The young maple just became more spectacular year after year as it did its job of dangling the lights proudly.
People walking by would ask me – how did you get the lights up there?
And then when the kids left for college, the decorating just became a massive chore for the two of us. I wasn’t keen on using that heavy, saw-edge guillotine pole, and I sure wasn’t gonna climb up there. We kept putting it off, the days edging closer and closer to Christmas Eve.
We had to get it done before the kids came home, they’d be disappointed.
But I’ll never forget that late December night, Mac and I driving home from a party – we turned onto our block and, looking down our street, we could see an area of illumination that looked like the spotlight over the Bulls stadium. The entire tree, even the topmost branches, had been circled and circled again with glittery bulbs.
Lewis was home from college early – his early holiday gift for us.
So now my tree has grown up to be one of the more established landmarks in our historic neighborhood. Good thing too, now that the neighbor’s grandaddy oak has fallen to earth. My tree was always in his shade, fighting for the sun. When I planted the thing, I suppose I had anticipated the event of the old man passing and needing to cover the bare spot.
But I wasn’t that confident that my little gal was up to the task. And now she’s come into her own. She’s become the corner piece of the yard. We actually have a tree to shade the entire street now.
I think what keeps me awake tonight is really this idea of control. Control over what is happening while I’m away – with my family, our home, the garden, my maple tree.
I hate not being there to make sure its alright, because that’s my job.
I need to know just exactly how much damage was inflicted, because I think I’m the best judge of that. I wanted to physically be there in the house when it happened, when the storm gathered strength and forced that old oak to its knees.
Because I was in the house several years ago when hurricane winds cleft that same tree’s upper trunk in two. And I remember that the noise was like a military cannon firing at first, and then it sounded like someone screaming. It horrified me. And I was the only one who witnessed that epic event and I talked about it for days.
But being here means being displaced from all of it – the kids, pets, my koi pond (has the owl eaten them?) – and my tree. They are the things that I’ve planted, grafted, nurtured and loved. And I hate that I can’t keep control of them right now.
Even though I know, deep down, that I never really did, even when I lived there.
When we said goodbye back in March I had to let go of the pink house for a while. And to try to suspend all the worry that goes along with it – the housework, the hot tub, the lawn, all the furniture – all the stuff.
I’ve had to abandon it for a time, but it still tugs at my night-time thoughts and won’t let me go. My tap-root must run deep, I guess. And maybe I’m not quite ready to downsize after all.
But of all the things to worry about in the world right now – this is what keeps me awake and yanking the feather comforter across my side of the bed – a tree?