Lament for a Tree

Friday evening a northern high pressure system collided with a vagrant mess of hot, sultry weather in Southwestern Ontario. Tornadoes touched down some 100 km from where I live, and gusts of up to 100 km/hour were reported in our area. I sat in my living room, mouth agape as trees ducked to escape sheets of water rifled at them with Thor-like intensity. After the storm subsided, I took a peak in our back yard. I was astounded to find that our neighbor’s 80 foot tall tree lay on his lawn. It fell at such an angle that it narrowly missed his shed in the back. The fall left a hole in the yard the size of a large fish-pond., The size of the now horizontal tree became evident as it engulfed half of his backyard. As he, I and my wife surveyed the damage, I expressed my condolences. He appeared heart broken and it struck me that for many – including me – a tree is more than a tree.

I was intrigued to learn, not so long ago, that one of the Norse sagas claims that humans were morphed from trees. In the book I call holy, certain trees are identified as sources of life, and the knowledge of good and evil. As we roamed across Norway last month, we also learned that some believed and believe elves to live in solitary trees. Many cultures have little people of one sort or another associated with tree life.

In many ways, there is more to a tree than meets the eye.

Across the road from our house, I bumped into Jim yesterday. Jim was cleaning up the aftermaths of the storm in his own front yard. We spoke of our neighbour’s loss. Jim was deeply saddened. He has a some stately trees of his own, including a spectacular oak. I once asked him the age of this tree, and he told me that he an arborist had suggested that it was likely over 300 years old. That tree at the corner of his yard was there before there was a yard, a street, a town, etc. If trees could talk, what tales they could tell! If we could hear, what stories we could savour!

In the book Tree: A Life Story, David Suzuki and Wayne Grady explain that the difference between hemoglobin (a human’s life blood) and chlorophyll (a tree’s life blood) is the presence of Iron where Magnesium is found in an otherwise identical molecule. Perhaps we humans have more in common with these gentle giants than first meets the eye. When all the trees of the forest sing for joy (Psalm 96:12), perhaps we might join in, and begin to learn a little about joy, about life, about tenacity.

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16 thoughts on “Lament for a Tree

  1. Marie Taylor says:

    I have a strong attraction for trees, their great kindness and patience. At my childhood home we had a giant maple in the front yard that turned a brilliant yellow in the fall. Finally, one year it died. The yard was never the same after that. Part of its heart was gone.

  2. shoreacres says:

    The grief of Galveston after Hurricane Ike destroyed most of its century-old lives oaks was terrible to behold. The trees had been planted after the Great Storm of 1900, and had become part of the soul of the city. While the hurricane brought too much salt water, the subsequent drought killed hundreds of thousands of trees by lack of water. Such irony.

    Still, in both cases, what has been most remarkable is the primary after-effect: the change in the light, and a certain sense of vertigo. Where there was something – mostly unnoticed, as a matter of fact – suddenly there was nothing. Whole towns seemed to feel exposed.

    When something like your neighbor’s tree is taken down, the same thing happens. Everything – the space, the light, the sense of place – is affected, and we know it never will be the same. It may again be good – but the change is irreversible.

  3. agjorgenson says:

    Yes, my wife’s “shade garden” will have some adjusting to do. I like your choice of “vertigo” to describe the feeling that accompanies these tragedies. Everything is up in the air, save the tree, which made this reorientation itself possible: perhaps this was its parting gift….

  4. dianerivers says:

    A giant Norway maple in my front yard had to be taken down some years ago because a microburst cracked it down the center during a storm, leaving it unstable toward my house. It took so many years to grow and mere hours (if that) to remove it completely. I cried. I replaced it with a Linden that my daughter and I named Glen. (Is it weird to name a tree? We didn’t think so.) Glen is now a beautiful and strong member of our family but I still like to look at pictures of that magnificent maple predecessor!

    • agjorgenson says:

      I don’t think it is weird to name a tree. Maybe it is weird not to name them! Glad to hear of this and I love the way you describe the tree as part of your family.

  5. Super Gran says:

    Something else to offer from a Mary Oliver poem, “When I Am Among the Trees”…of what we sense or learn from trees –
    “you also have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine”
    Enjoying your poems so much, too.

  6. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks for that beautiful line, and I am glad you are enjoying the poems!

  7. Sorry to hear about the storms. I missed Norways trees on large parts of the Cuthbert walk!

  8. jannatwrites says:

    That loss would be heart-breaking. I’m glad no one was injured, though.

    I love trees. The Redwoods in California were amazing to me because the trunks were so massive. We don’t have trees quite as muscular as that where I live, but we do our best to care for them.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Yes, we so lament with our neighbours.. Really, it is a neighbourhood loss. The strange thing about it all, is that the healthiest trees were most vulnerable because the crown is so heavy.

  9. diannegray says:

    I’m glad you are okay after the storms. I absolutely love trees and plant them whenever I feel energetic 😉 We have two large mango trees in the yard that need to go (they were attacked by white-ants and are now unstable) and it makes me very sad that they’ll be cut down…

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks. When we were in Australia we were absolutely enthralled by the many trees, and all so very different from our own. Yes, it is sad to know that our favoured trees will one day come down, but hopefully it inspires us to enjoy them each day.

  10. rickpryce says:

    I drove through Victoria Park in Kitchener this a.m., and discovered that the tree under which I stood for hours during the Multicultural Festival was literally ripped out of the ground by the same storm. I suddenly felt a hole in my heart as big as the hole in the ground. I had only “known” that tree for two days, yet I felt as though I had lost a friend. It had provided shade from the scorching sun, shelter from the pouring rain, and a place to lean when my legs got tired.

    To quote, Leonard Bernstein, “How easily things get broken….”

    Thanks Alan.

  11. agjorgenson says:

    I can completely understand your feelings. I sometimes feel as if I have had an aha moment regarding trees: a gift indeed.

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