Thursday, December 6, 2012

In the Company of Trees

Trees have been on mind lately.  Not that I've consciously been thinking about them; perhaps that's the problem.  They keep cropping up like an unexpected friend, the one you've been meaning to call, but just haven't found the time.  It's only in hindsight that I see the pattern, the not-so-coincidental encounters, like yesterday. . .

I had settled into my aisle seat on Southwest flight 1445, heading back to NYC from our home in Arkansas, and needed something to read.  Not yet in the mood to finish the last chapter of Eleanor Roosevelt's autobiography, I pulled "Spirit" out of the seat pocket in front of me.  The title of an article in the SW magazine intrigued me, "The Old Man and the Tree," by Sarah Perry.  Jonathan Bartlett's illustration immediately drew me into the story.

Frank, the old man, had cared for and developed a 50-year relationship with the Yarmouth, Maine elm (or Herbie, as the community liked to call him). Frank passed by Herbie every day, just to say "hello." He brought school children to visit, to link hands and surround the massive trunk, to give Herbie a hug. 

"What is it about a thing as seemingly insignificant as a tree that can inspire such devotion?" Ms. Perry asked.

Not that I'd use the word "insignificant" when referring to a tree, but I did have a similar thought about a month before when I stood in front of a tree in Brooklyn. (No, not THAT tree.)  Drew and I happened upon the Camperdown Elm during a Sunday afternoon walk in  Prospect Park.  Not particularly striking, with arthritic-looking limbs held together by taunt wire cables, this elderly arbor clearly showed its 140 years. 

Yet much like Herbie, it had been saved, tended to, even cherished by a community and revered in verse by a poet, Marianne Moore, who wrote, "It is still leafing; still there. Mortal though. We must save it.  It is our crowning curio."

Shortly after that chance meeting, there was yet another.  I was visiting the 9/11 Memorial with my friend, Margie, on a sunny autumn morning.  I had been there before, so as Margie absorbed the experience for the first time, I observed details I had missed.  I noticed people gathered around one particular tree, one of the 412 spread throughout the plaza, touching its bark, fingering its leaves, standing, gazing at it with a worshipful reverence. 

The callery pear is the only surviving tree recovered from the destruction of the World Trade Center. When it was pulled from the rubble, it had one living branch; it is now thriving.  I felt a peacefulness as I watched the Survivor Tree  providing its quiet comfort to, and in turn being comforted by, the people in its presence that morning.  
Then, last week our son, Jason, wife Kate, and three children invited me to help decorate their Christmas

As Jason lifted Nate up to place the glittery red star on the tree's top, and the little fingers placed ornaments on her limbs, I saw a relationship beginning.

A relationship. . . .

In the busyness of my life, I obviously needed reminders to re-establish relationships with the calming presence of neglected "friends."  As if the universe wanted to give me one last nudge, I received a card from our daughter, Katherine.  Inside were two tea bags -- and two autumn leaves, red and yellow,  from the tree in her yard.  



1 comment:

  1. I love that you told us your flight number, the thought of children surrounding to hug Herbie, the "crowing curio" (I wonder what mine is...), that amazing pear tree story, the joy of tree decorating and your red and yellow leaves. And the number of Kates and Katherines you have around you. ;>


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