On Sunday night at midnight, our tree broke. At least a century old and over 150 feet high, it simply tore at a massive joint and collapsed … falling with a muted scream and blue explosions – taking down the power lines and shorting out our electric fence. Its branches touched my bedroom windows, shocking Jack and me from sleep.
That tree has history for me … the first day I saw it was when sofabrother was looking for somewhere to live in CT. I was still in New York and had interrupted a return flight home from Sydney to lend a hand. At the time I was trying to make sense of a career that felt like it was disintegrating and he was starting anew after 18 years in London. As we pulled up, there it was – this big, bright green reassuring presence, gently leaning over the road, softening down the sounds of the trains that pass every half an hour. We knew immediately the house was right. And the tree has watched over us for almost a decade. Always changing but always there.
Now it was lying butchered, mutilated – like a redoubtable elephant felled for its tusks. It smelt like death too – pungent, wet, bitter, sappy. The man who lived under it watched us from the other side of the fence, he slept alongside the rail-tracks, under our tree’s branches: both in danger and safe at the same time. He has been there all summer, coming home to roost in the roots around 10pm every night. Up and off at first light before the trains thunder through. Now, he gathered his possessions and headed down the road – while council workers chainsawed the broken tree into small, neat packages. The street outside our house was covered in sawdust – it looked like banked snow against the dark tar.
My yoga class the next day was all based on Vrksasana – Tree Pose. I am always amazed by how those co-incidence happen. Rooted on one leg: arms first wide then brought slowly together for palms to meet -I felt a wash of sad and my eyes filled with tears. I kept my balance, but something swayed and shifted.
As we lay in savasana, our yoga teacher read the poem she said had inspired the class. She had her own reasons for meditating on trees, but the words seemed a fitting obit for our brave bloom:
“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.” (Joyce Kilmer)
I wasn’t the only one who had an emotional response. I watched as familiar locals passed by – students, tradesmen, the children next door: each stopped and looked, each touched the broken trunk, a few muttered a few words, some took shavings as souvenirs. We all felt like something mighty had fallen.
The Council Safety Inspector told me the whole thing may need to come down. That too much water had got in somehow – undermining the trunk. And so it could be dangerous. He showed me the shadow in the bark: soft tissues where he said no damp should be. The pulp was seeping small drops of white liquid, like tears. I tasted one – was green and woody, bitter and milky-sweet: “it shouldn’t taste like that, it’s not right.”
As I stood was watching the workers take away the wood, one of the homeless women who live down near the river joined me. “Ek ken die boom al twintig jaar”she told me. “Dis ons bergies se vriend. Moenie worry, dis fies, dit sal were groei.”* She must have read something on my face, because she touched my arm: “Ja … die lewe gaan maar aan”**.
The woodman smiled at us both: “That’s true”, he said. “It’s nature. Wait until spring comes – you’ll see a new side of this tree, the young side.” Then he got in his truck, she walked on down the road and I went inside to make a coffee. As the lady said, life goes on.
(Translation: *“I know this tree twenty years …it’s us ‘bergies’ friend. Don’t worry, It’s strong, it’s going to grow again.”)