© Another Day in the Country
This morning the winds of fall were blowing through the trees in Ramona. Gentle and cool, they reminded me of an old friend who used to say, “The wind prunes the trees and time the populace.”
Dr. Rittenhouse was the president of the college where I worked, a dapper, distinguished, humorous man who wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed — and he believed in progress. Long gone, he’d enjoy being remembered after all these years.
I’m sitting on the porch with my laptop, looking out at all the trees in my yard that I planted and all the trees across the street that grew up at random and are much older than me. There are cedar and ash, hackberry and elm, tall and sturdy. There’s an apple tree that I planted that’s never amounted to much of anything and a maple in the front yard that had its top broken off in the ice storm that devastated us all the winter of 2007.
“Cut that tree down,” my sister said, “Just like the man who helped plant it, it’s doomed.”
But I assured her that people and trees recover, and with careful pruning that tree could be beautiful — and it is.
We were planting trees, that year the maple tree was planted, to honor loved ones. Our cousins planted a tree for their grandfather, our Uncle Walter. It is a Bradford pear tree, grown tall and beautiful. I planted a cherry tree to honor the marriage I’d left — a sour cherry tree that makes the most wonderful pies and cobblers. I thought it symbolized my marriage, which might have been tart at times but still bore delicious fruit! That tree seems to be dying now, with sap bleeding out of the branches, and I don’t know what to do to save it. Meanwhile, the man I was married to is in intensive care, terminally ill. Every day I say a prayer for him and the tree. Ironically, the tree is half-alive. “Maybe we should prune off the dead branches,” my sister says, “do you think that would help?”
At my mother’s house, the house where I now live, the trees in the yard, straight and tall, are the ones my mother chose and we planted years ago. There’s my favorite, the bald cypress in the front yard that Mom called “the bride tree,” and the liquid amber beside the porch. There is a flowering crab, a redbud tree, another Bradford pear and a larch tree on the east. Mother wanted flowering trees that reminded her of the lushness of the woods around her home in Oregon.
There’s a magnolia tree on the west side of the house that has managed to survive in Kansas, and a strange “Princess” tree that Mom saw advertised in a catalog. It came looking more like a gourd than a tree, a strange but lovely tree that has huge leaves and blooms on occasion.
The year that my grandson was born a cottonwood tree came up in the stream that leads to my fish pond. When I saw it, I laughed at its tenacity, thriving in a fake streambed. When I pulled it out, its roots were strong and lush and I couldn’t throw it away. Instead, I heeled it into the flowerbed for the winter and said, “If you live, I’ll plant you in the yard in the spring and you’ll be Dagfinn’r tree.” It lived.
When Dagfinnr was old enough to understand, I told him the story of the tree that had grown in the stream the year he was born. “If it is a ‘boy tree’ we’ll know it is your tree,” I told him. He wanted to know how we could tell if it was a boy or a girl.
The tree was a boy and in just eight years, it towers probably twenty feet tall over all the other trees in the backyard. It is happy!
This summer in California, I read a book to my grandson called, “My Brother The Tree,” about a commemorative tree planted for a loved one. Dagfinnr said, “I can hardly wait to see my brother the tree in Kansas to see how tall he is now.” I smiled, because Dagfinnr is tall, too.
In my front yard, close to the house, there’s a strange fir tree that I keep threatening to cut down. It is weak-willed and scrawny and looks like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. We discovered, too late, that it is meant to be espaliered along a fence or beside a wall, so I’ve had to put a brace on the trunk to hold it upright for years, otherwise it would bend over like someone with poor posture. Perhaps on some far distant day, someone will call it “Beautiful,” and wonder about who planted it in Kansas.
It’s another day in the country and my daughter’s father died at 4:30 in the afternoon. We weep at her loss, along with the cherry tree.