My Tree

By Suzan Chiacchio Brand

My Tree

Every time I drove by it, I promised to stop next time and get a photo; it was so beautiful to me. What was it? It was a tree. A tree rooted along a small stream next to a road I travelled almost every day. Its gracefulness amazed me each and every time I passed it. It was majestic and powerful, with long reaching arms that seemed to beckon me. It created a peaceful patch of shade next to an open field of tall brown grasses.

Across this field there was a small pond where my younger brother, Dan, and I went fishing. Mom would pack a cooler and Dad would bring the paper, and Dan, our grandfather and I would bait our lines, never catching much more than small sunfish that glittered faintly when we pulled them out of the water. We always threw them back, probably catching the same one over and over again.

There were trails around the pond, and a significant amount of wildlife for its somewhat suburban location. There were bullfrogs that landed with a rousing plop when we ventured near, iridescent dragon flies and shiny sapphire Barn Swallows that skimmed the water in an acrobatic aerial ballet. Praying Mantises camouflaged themselves as slender reeds, and Downy Woodpeckers gave away their locations amidst the trees with incessant tapping.

There were many lovely places around this pond, but my favorite was near the majestic tree. I didn’t even know what kind of tree it was; probably an oak. But I did know that it was beautiful. The rough-textured, massive trunk gave it a very grand and commanding presence. The multitudinous limbs stretched outward and upward, as graceful as a dancer’s port-de-bra. The sun-dappled shade it provided was a cool respite from the muggy August air. The stream next to it meandered in a gentle “S,” soothing the eyes and the soul before slipping quietly under the bridge of the roadway.

As we grew older, the fishing trips decreased, but I continued to travel this road almost daily. At one point it was to drive to a well-paying but very stifling job. This job was so wrong for me that by the second day, I knew I’d made a mistake. The highlight of my days was my journey past my tree. It soothed me, comforted me and gave me something to daydream about. Each day I’d take in its grace and beauty with a sigh, burning the image of it in my brain so I could remember it throughout the long day. In its own way, it saved me, and I loved it for that. I knew that it loved me in return. No matter what the weather, it seemed to smile at me. Stretching out its arms as if to embrace me in a comforting hug, as a parent might embrace a child who had just awakened from a terrifying dream…“there there, now, everything will be alright.”

One afternoon, on my way home from work, tragedy struck. As I approached the curve in the road where I’d look for my tree, I couldn’t see it. My heart started to pound, and my eyes darted frantically across the horizon for its unmistakable silhouette. Where was it? Where was my tree? Then I saw it…lying in the ravine along the stream bed, lifelessly trying to reach out to me as the chainsaws dismembered its limbs. Above the buzz of the saws I could almost hear it crying out to me, but there was nothing I could do to save it…it was too late. I cried out in agony. The sadness I felt was visceral. My eyes flowed with tears – tears that seemed to flow faster than the stream where the old tree had stood for all those years. It was gone. Never again would I lay eyes on its intricate network of limbs and branches or sense it reaching out to me in comfort. Even today, all these years later, I still feel a sadness deep in my bones when I think of that tree lying forlornly on its side in the ravine, sadly reaching out to me one last time.

When I told a friend about my experience the next day, I couldn’t finish the story without getting weepy. I figured he would think I was some sort of weirdo, getting so worked up about a tree. But when I dried my eyes and looked at him, I realized that he was crying too. He said he knew exactly how I felt, as he’d had a similar experience. There was a field near his house growing up where he used to chase rabbits and catch snakes and grasshoppers. Like me and my tree, he loved every blade of grass and every single wild berry that grew in that field. One day the bulldozers came and tore it up. Rabbits scampered away in fear, toads fled for their lives, and berries were crushed under the tracks of earthmovers. He watched in horror at the destruction of this little patch of wild paradise. A year later it was a small enclave of nondescript homes with unnatural lawns and uninspired landscaping. He said he cried the day those bulldozers came, even though he was an adult by then and hadn’t chased a rabbit in years. It surprised him how strong his reaction was to the tragedy, but his connection with the nature in that field ran deeper than he’d ever imagined.

I never did get a photo of my tree nor did I learn why it was cut down. It didn’t interfere with the roadway, and there wasn’t any room for development where it stood. I’d like to think that maybe it was about to die anyway, but I’d rather have seen it die a natural death and become a home or grocery store for woodpeckers and other birds. It was my relationship with this tree that really revealed to me the power of nature to heal all that ails, both physically and emotionally. The healing power of nature has been well documented, and I feel fortunate to have realized this connection at a young age. While I miss my tree deeply, I’ve found other trees to love. I hope everyone has a tree in their lives, a tree to love and cherish, to enjoy its cooling shade and feel the whisper of comfort with every breeze that rustles the leaves.

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