Monday, June 15, 2015

Trees Have Memories

I woke up to the sound of chainsaws this morning. It was definitely not the peaceful emergence into consciousness I had envisioned for my Monday, but I don't usually get to wake up like that anyway.

The chainsaws were a little shocking, however. Initially I was dreaming that I was being chased by a loudly buzzing swarm of giant man-eating wasps... then I heard (and felt) the thud of the first branch as it hit the ground. It shook my whole body (and the bed and the light fixtures and the random clutter that piles up in spite of my best efforts and intentions).

The town is cutting down the big oak tree across the street.

After having had a very large oak tree attempt to flatten my house during Hurricane Irene back in 2011, after being exiled from our home for ten months as the house was basically rebuilt, you might think I'd be happy to see a big old tree in such close proximity to my home come down in a more controlled manner. Except I'm not.

The tree that is no more.
That's one big old tree. The practical, logical, Virgo-y part of me says I'll miss the tree because of it's shade. The canopy of that big oak keeps most of the afternoon sun off this poorly insulated late-Victorian house. Without it's protective shade my utility bills will certainly sky-rocket. I can hear the HVAC unit and my bank account moaning in pain and discomfort already. I'm wishing the town had thought to cut that thing down in late August instead of mid-June. We've already seen days the thermometer topped 100 degrees and we haven't even officially reached summer yet.

But there's more to it. That tree is easily over a hundred years old. It was there, at least as a spindly young sapling, when this old house was built. A lot has come and gone in that tree's time.

On the day we closed on this house, almost twelve years ago, we parked under that tree. I stepped out of the family minivan as a brand new home owner onto the rough roots of that oak tree. I remember it very clearly, because I had to be careful to keep my balance on those gnarly roots as I unbuckled the children. We took a picture that day of our young family in front of the realtor's sign in the front yard, the shadows from the leaves of that big oak tree dappled our smiling faces.

That first summer, I spread a blanket in the front yard in the shade of that big tree and the kids ate huge hunks of local watermelon, the older two trying to spit the seeds all the way across the street, to the trunk of that big tree. Since then we've picnicked in it's shade more times than I can count. The children have used it's shed branches as snowman limbs and epic fantasy swords. Games of touch football and laser tag and corn hole and capture the flag have taken place under it's stretching limbs. Like an old and faithful family friend it has stood in the background to watch my youngest child's first wobbly steps, and so many birthday parties, and the teens' date-night kisses at the front door, and pinned prom corsages.

I will miss that tree.

It's funny the things we miss. When my grandmother died, and her house was sold and then bulldozed, it didn't upset me in the way I thought it would. It was the loss of the trees the new owner so flippantly cleared that brought on the almost uncontrollable weeping (which was very un-Virgo-y).  The oak tree where the old tire swing hung, where I and my young cousins would spin each other until we were dizzy and ready to vomit. The magnolia tree where my grandfather had taught my young and skinny fingers their first fumbling chords on his old guitar.  The crabapple tree that I had bravely climbed as a child, but was afraid to climb down. (I remember my grandmother and her fussiness that I might knock all of the green fruit off before it was ripe. It was my grandfather who coached me down, limb by shaky limb.) The old gum tree where I had carved the initials of my first middle school crush. The plum tree that produced a bumper crop of plums the summer I bought my piccolo for marching band. (I had picked bushel baskets full of plums and wheeled them up in the old baby buggy to sell on Beach Road to passersby. I raised $100 that summer.) They are all gone, chopped down and ground unceremoniously into mulch. At least when our relatives die, we get the closure of a funeral and a proper burial. Here I am left with no closure and a persistent ache that those beautiful trees are gone.

Weaving around and through and between the trunks and branches and roots of those trees was the ghost of my childhood. The loss of them signaled the fading of treasured memories. There is nothing solid and sturdy and real to touch, no other witnesses to those beautiful moments in my life. I am afraid that they will drift away from me, that they will fade like early morning mist.

Trees have memories, and not just their own.

The loss of those trees meant nothing to the new owner. To her they were a nuisance and hindrance to the new house she wanted built on the lot. She hadn't walked the same path under those trees and through their branches that I had. Now she has a barren lot... but a rather nice house.

The same is true of this big beautiful old tree across the street, the one that almost isn't there any more (for government employees those guys are incredibly efficient). The tree is perfectly healthy... or was until it's arms were sawed away... but like my grandmother's trees it was just in the way. "It's messing up the sidewalks," said the chainsaw guys this morning.

But nobody uses those anymore. Who wants to go outside when it's a million degrees and there isn't any shade?

Good-bye old tree. I will miss you. You were so much more precious than that flat slab of concrete that will take your place.


Jen F. said...

This breaks my heart (and I've never even seen the tree in question!). There is a builder who has torn down several houses in my neighborhood and rebuilt castles in their places. Over and over, he clears out every single tree on the lot, many of them 100+ years old. I cry a little every time.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the beautiful read.. My thoughts exactly. It was the first thing that April and I talked about as we went by ( on separate occasions) not to mention it was also where our beloved animals were buried and what we all shared as our families home. Kind of what we had left the house and land that tied us together it was beautiful just the way it was.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful just the way it was! All of us all knew it that memories we Had. It was all our family had left of Mom and Dad.Tied us all together that lived local always. well said Stephanie and Alice.just read this again with tears. I sure miss going there. So wish I could go to 8 Church lane and just sit and remember all the good times.we all sure miss them.