I’ve always loved trees. I loved climbing trees as a kid. We had our favorite “big tree” where my friends would meet, a giant live oak that had grown up around a telephone pole. As elementary school kids we would ride our bikes to the “big tree” and climb up its enormous, gentle trunk. Then the brave ones would slide down the telephone pole, splinters and all. Mostly we sat on its outstretched branches and just enjoyed the world from that lofty perch.
The first poem I memorized was Joyce Kilmer’s Trees; “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” I’ve even made a pilgrimage the Joyce Kilmer National Forest in western North Carolina (Did I mention I love trees?).
My husband and I live on a beautiful wooded property outside Gainesville, FL. We are surrounded by enormous live oaks whose branches defy gravity, reaching out to embrace the Light, paralleling the earth with grace and beauty, Spanish moss draping them like tinsel at Christmas. These trees have been here for generations upon generation; humans have come and gone, but these trees seemed eternal, withstanding all manner of Mother Nature’s fury.
Outside our front porch, the single most beautiful granddaddy live oak tree graced our small pond. Estimated to be three to four hundred years old, it reigned supreme over the other trees. Each morning when I opened the blinds I would look at that tree and marvel at how its branches could be so immense and stretch so far from its trunk. The sight of it gave me comfort; I felt somehow safe in its embrace.
Then came Hurricane season. In my attempt to fly home before a big one was to hit I was rerouted to Orlando, so my sweet husband drove there to pick me up and we stayed over the night of the storm. When we got home the next day, we found our magnificent tree stretched out on the ground, a scant four feet from our bedroom window.
We felt the full force of shock, of disbelief, of sorrow. There was our giant, our constant friend, our beauty, our steadfast oak, felled by Hermine. I admit it; I cried. I felt empty. I felt sad. I grieved. I realize it was “only” a tree, but that tree had been a constant presence in my life for 30 years, and I’d always assumed that it would be there long after I was gone, and was comforted by that thought.
This tree was a reminder of the power of grief. Our tree was not a loved one, not a family member but it certainly was a friend. Even though time passes, grief can persist. We must remember caring for the dying can build up layers of grief from constant loss. Give yourself some space and time to breathe and let go of the past; then embrace the future ahead. I think it’s time for me and Steve to have our tree dismantled, re-purpose the wood and plant a garden.
Our grand daddy live oak on the ground