She Called to Me
Trees are something more to me.
The weeping willow that held court for my dolls at age three. The white birch in mom’s front yard too lazy to hold its bark and too apathetic to betray my summer secrets. The cork tree at Colgate University with its low-stretching, cradle-shaped branches that rocked me while I wept for four difficult years. The affable oak at old Roy’s farm where the cows still gossip and I leave my troubles.
Trees have always been something more to me. But this one is special.
** I wish I had a little house just like that.
This vanishing thought snags me as my husband speeds past it at breakneck speed in a 40 mph zone. He has no regard for my safety or that of my four babies in car seats behind me. The fiery maple stands sentry before it on that busy street. Her vivid orange calls to me; it is emblazoned in the recesses of my memory. That is the most beautiful tree I have ever seen.
Years pass. Each entry into the gloomy season when I will be unable to leave the house due to winter and confinement is marked again by this impassioned beauty. She beckons to me quietly. I hear her as I pass each day but only in the whisper of a feeling like gentle strings tied to ‘something more’. I do not remember what she says, but I somehow know anyway.
When I finally gather the strength to leave my marriage, I am hurried. It is important that we leave immediately because I already waited too long. I search frantically for a gentle place to furrow our roots. No busy street will do because my children are sprinkled between ages 7 and 11 and I need to keep them safe. Until one day in December when I break this rule. I happen across a lovely cape with just the right amount of charm and barely enough space which somehow feels exactly right.
Christmas is tender. Spring reveals tulips in my garden. And one morning in the first fall I am greeted by the early orange glow of the maple through my own front window and I realize for the first time that I came ‘home.’ She was calling to me. And I listened.
The maple is kindly to my children who grow into teenagers now but who still like to climb. It offers a branch to dangle and many others to scale. What a strange fruit they are, these children, who have surged with color since we left. I cherish seeing them here, embracing this friend who saved my life, and hanging with vibrancy amidst her bittersweet glow. I relish this moment and check the slate blue fall sky past her bare branches above. Her naked hand cues me. I know, my friend, I know.
Her color arrives earlier with each passing year and doesn’t stay as long. I removed the girdling root which was causing her color to explode with such attitude and, for a time, made her stand out. But, it was strangling her. I nourish her. And groom her petticoats. I stroke her trunk and whisper to her gently in kind. But, she is dying and I do not know how to say goodbye.
Hurricane Sandy arrived with a vengeance and brought a 7,000 lb pine tree down on my house within paces of where I was sleeping. It should have killed me. Out of concern the crew there to remove that tree suggested that I also remove the ‘dead maple’ before it fell on my house too. They were willing to do it free of charge which seemed little consolation for murdering my friend. I was distraught but understood this was necessary for the safety of my children and, with too hasty a goodbye, went into the house to weep while they fired up the chainsaws.
Cacophony punctuated with one sweaty cry, “she doesn’t want to go down!” I fell to my knees in shame while she called to me and I did nothing.
Today it is quiet and my family room is too bright. I saved a bit of her trunk and will fashion it into something to remember her. Something lovely that will welcome others to the homes of each of my children as they go off to begin lives of their own. She will greet all who enter there as well.
And this spring I will also carve a kidney shaped berm where she once stood and will add a white flowering tree that will beckon the next woman who needs safe passage when I am finally free to leave here. And she, too, will be beautiful.
Trees have always been something more to me. But these two are special.