I have always felt a connection with old trees. So I look for them. Old, lovely, twisted, characters that have lived a full life. I love to be in and among them whenever possible, and watch their transformation season to season. This deep reverence and love goes back to my childhood.
My earliest memories were of my first childhood neighborhood, filled with huge Dutch elms with black bark and branches which stretched out over the old, worn, brick streets of another era. So thick in the summertime, their leaves provided an umbrella for us rain or shine.
Those old trees all died out with Dutch elm disease in the late 1970's We suffered the devastating loss of hundreds of big old gorgeous trees, and it completely transformed our neighborhood. The light changed. Autumn didn't have the piles of golden leaves anymore. Spring didn't smell the same. Walks became less magical.... much too bright.
As a child, it seemed impossible that these giants would somehow fall. The sweeping, rapid loss of all those trees has always stayed with me, and today, 40 years later, when I go back to that neighborhood and see the sweet gums, sugar maples and pin oaks that replaced those sacred elms, I still think of them as imposters.
We moved shortly after that further out of town and I became acquainted with the enormous cottonwoods and their shimmering leaves and rough, grey bark. They were companions of my brother's and mine. Days filled swinging over creeks, reading in amongst branches, picnicking underneath the green shade with our lunchboxes. Unfortunately, a few years later, those ancient trees were cut down for a new development.
As if they weren't even living, or useful, or loved.
As if they hadn't lived a thousand lives, watching every moment.
As if they were not holy things. An afterthought to clear out for a new development.
I like to think a tree absorbs all of the beauty around it as it grows. Its color and composition nuanced with the squeals of children's laughter, the hushed conversation of an evening walk, the sound of horses pulling wagons by a fragile sapling long ago.
As it grew, this vigorous tree provided branches for children to climb in, hidden places for birds to nest, a playground for squirrels and shade for picnics on hot days. A gentle giant that has stood strong through wind and lightening, freezing snow and ice, and the blistering hot humid days of a Missouri summer. It became a refuge in old age, and having reached the fullness of it's maturity, simply resonates with life.
It's a privilege to know you, old friend.