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My Turn: Lessons learned from a mighty old spruce in Babylon

This past summer, a gigantic 70-year-old, mighty old spruce in my yard cracked and toppled during Tropical Storm Isaias. Its fall was partially broken by two tall "weed" trees tucked into the corner of my yard.

We've cleared most of the spruce, felled by a sad but natural event. What remains are the two "fall breaker" trees, one leaning on the other, both curved over my yard like hesitant commas in search of the period — their final fall — at the end of their sentence.

And yet. And yet …

They actually don't look ready to fall anytime soon. They are intact, but badly bent. They are nourished by water, soil and sun. They are draped with vines (a scourge upon my yard), so now, having lost their leaves, there is still a swaying canopy of foliage, a green flag for the winter.

They are also a visual discordance now, whenever I gaze out my back door, something I do a lot. I once gazed at the mighty spruce, a comfort over the years, always standing tall when I leaned against the back door with a mug of coffee. The tree promised mystery and wildlife visitors, sifting the sun, filtering the rainfall, couching the snow.

I had worried in recent years that when I finally moved the new occupants might see the tree as too tall, too scraggly, too much for the small backyard. I’d look at the spruce and grow anxious for it, premonitorily, for some future date when I couldn’t protect its majesty.

Instead, nature itself conducted the pruning, severing the tree’s poetry with the sky.

I am sad the tree is gone.

The morning after it happened, I gazed out mournfully, thinking, "What will I do without The Tree?" And the universe spoke to me: It was a bolt of truth, planted in me and sprouting in branches of knowledge throughout my being — you are The Tree.

The message was: It's all temporary, this life — we people and other living things; it's all a gift. We can enjoy something, and when it is knocked down or lost to us, we can still go on. And we ourselves need to be our "trees," the generators of the love, kindness and beauty we once found in something or someone departed.

So to return to the two sideways trees in the corner of my yard. I had thought (and anyone entering my yard might think it, too): "These are broken. These are twisted. These need to come down."

But the two sideways trees are very much alive. And if they ever get toppled in a windstorm, their fall will land along the rear fence line, inside the border of my fence, harming nothing and no one.

And so when I sat again on my back steps with a steaming mug of coffee and a warm black cat on my lap, gazing into my yard, the sideways trees reminded me that life can go on, even when it feels half-broken and looks discordant. There is still nourishment, still new adventures to interpret through all the adversity; and on a particular morning, in the early light, a raucous cobalt blue jay and two families of cardinals flitted in and out of the sideways trees with the same joy they'd visited the mighty old spruce over the years.

The past year has been discordant, bent over sideways; there is more discord to come as we negotiate our way through the storm of this pandemic. Yet we are mostly finding nourishment, greeting the morning, here to give love and care to one another. We are, like those storm-twisted trees, still valid, worthy of the visitations of nature and our better angels.

There is peace in that. And hope. And remembering. Let us be tall and mighty and enduring as on we carry on in 2021.

Joan Hitz,


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