Monday, August 27, 2018

Arbor vita

It’s one of the hottest, summery-est days of the year, and yet the signs of change to the next season are everywhere. Yesterday the soybean field out the south window of my office was at its peak of gold-hued beauty; today it’s all grey-brown blah. Life, I tell you. One minute you’re golden, the next you’re filler in a package of hotdogs. Of course, frequently it does take longer than a minute, but the end is still the same and it’s still cause for melancholy reflection.

So the big elm tree next to our house split in two a week ago. Half of it fell on the house. Miraculously, there was very little damage, certainly nothing major. Ironically, it probably would have been cheaper for us if there had been, since that’s just one of the mysterious ways insurance works. Regardless, the tree removal guys are out there right now, with a crane and a bunch of chainsaws and a big mechanical crab-claw thing that looks like it would be kind of fun to operate except that it’s about a hundred degrees in the shade out there, and we now have a lot less shade.

The tree was old, and it was only a matter of time before the other half fell, so K agreed to have not just the fallen parts removed but the whole thing. I don’t know why this makes me sad, but it does, and I guess this is one of those things that either makes you unaccountably very sad or else just makes you shrug. “Tree hugger” used to be a derisive term, but lately it seems to have been reclaimed by those who feel a strong emotional pull toward nature. Until a tree dies, I somehow always think of them as nearly eternal, like mountains or lakes. They seem so solidly enduring, such a steady presence amidst the frantic madness of the rest of the living world.

Our house is 120 years old; I have no idea how many years it shared with the tree, but I’m sure there were a great many. At the point when we moved in, it shaded the entire west side. There were birds’ nests in its trunk, and K attached a rope ladder to one bough so that our macaws could climb up and play in the branches. Whenever I looked out the west window of my office, that’s what I’d see—that’s all I’d see. I didn’t mind; it’s not like there was much of a view beyond it, and I liked looking for the songbirds that made such a racket each morning. There’s a lot more light in my office now—harsh light, searing with heat. It makes me think of those Edward Hopper paintings of people looking out windows like they’re waiting for something, except in the moment of the painting, there’s nothing out there but that hard, uncaring light.

There’s so much tragedy going on right now—too much, it often seems, as if there could ever be just the right amount of tragedy. Amidst all this, there’s something absurdly precious and pointless about mourning the death of one tree. Nevertheless, there’s an empty space now where there once was something grandly alive. I won’t ignore that, and hopefully that way I won’t forget it.

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