It was only a tree, I tell myself. And it was a sick one at that. It had to go. It had to be taken down. It’s only logical. Then why do I feel as if I’m in mourning? Why do I feel as if an old friend has been taken from me?
The tree I’m talking about was an old mock magnolia tree. At least I think that’s what it was. I’m not even sure. It stood next to our house by the side porch and garage, like a silent sentinel. Every time you entered the house, you had to pass next to and under it. The tree was tall, as tall as our house. It was old. I’m no tree expert, but I estimate it was about 40 years old. I tried counting the rings in the stump before they ground it up.
The tree was useful. It provided valuable shade for the south side of our house. That helped to keep the house cool in summer. The day they took it down, the temperature on our porch in the afternoon rose to an unprecedented 104! The tree was messy. It dropped its greenish, fuzzy seed pods all over our sidewalk and porch steps. We’d have to sweep them up every day. A few times we even resorted to using a shovel. Still we would end up tracking some of those messy seed pods into the kitchen.
But the tree was incredibly beautiful. For a week or two each spring it would break out into a festival of white blossoms. The blossoms were huge, but delicate. On an overcast day, the flowering tree seemed to glow. Those blossoms more than made up for the mess the tree made with those seed pods. All those blossoms fell off too making another mess we had to deal with. Darn! I imagine something similar happens when you get a new puppy. The puppy tinkles on your carpet or chews your shoe to shreds and you’re ready to take the darn dog back to where you got it. But then it looks at you with those contrite eyes or jumps up and down excitedly when you enter the room, and all is forgiven. All. Every time we beheld those white blossoms, we forgave the tree it sins and said, “You may stay.”
But several years ago, the tree began to get sick. We had a tree professional come out and look at it. He chopped off a few limbs, sprayed it several times with who-knows-what, and gave it a few more years to live. But this past year the tree got worse. It began oozing “sticky stuff” that got all over the steps, the handrail, the myrtle, and even us. Hordes of flies began to swarm around, on, and inside the tree. The tree pro came out again and said: The tree should go. Clearly it was dying. In fact it was already half dead. He tied a bright orange ribbon around the trunk of the tree and promised to send a crew out to remove it in a few days.
That’s when I began to mourn in earnest. I sensed the other two sisters I live with, Sisters Sandy and John Paul, were
mourning too. Sister Sandy, knowing my particular fondness for the tree, offered to take my picture next to it. In the glare of the early morning sun, wearing my grubbies, I let her do so. Then we waited. Every time we came home from somewhere, we were relieved when we saw that the tree was still there. I naively began to think, “Maybe they’ll forget to come and take it down and we’ll have it for just one more year.” But they didn’t forget. They came. And they took it down.
I wasn’t home when they did it. I’m glad I wasn’t. Just hearing the loud buzzing of those chainsaws would have been too hard on me. That day, fortuitously, I had an early morning appointment. I left at 7:45 am and returned at 9:30 am. As soon as I neared the house, I saw it. The tree was gone. Totally gone!
There wasn’t even a sign that it had been there except for its low stump and a few wood chips strewn in the myrtle. The whole side of the house looked different. Naked. The mourning doves, who were accustomed to perching in the tree and had probably raised their young in it, were flitting around the porch confusedly. They knew something was not right.
Yes, we talk about planting another tree where our mock magnolia stood. But trees cost money. And they take a long time to get big enough to provide shade. And the house is old. And the three residents of the house are getting up there in years too. I personally can’t think about getting a new tree. Not yet. For now, I just want to sit for a while, cherishing the memory of the other tree.
After all, it was more than just a tree. It was an old friend.
Friends don’t have to be people. Here’s a song about friendship that seems an appropriate one for this reflection. It’s called “Friends Are Quiet Angels.”
Have you ever had a friendship with a non-human being—like a tree, a plant, a pet, a house, a particular place? What was that friendship like for you?
When you mourned the loss of someone or something, what was that experience like for you? Do you think mourning can be a good thing?