To quote Joyce Kilmer, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree,” in this case the tree that I planted in memory of my father. When he passed away 45 years ago, I drove out to our old home farm, long since abandoned, and found the clump of basswoods that still grew beside the circular driveway. As preschoolers, my little friends and I had picked the big broad basswood leaves and worn them as hats when we did our pretend shopping while playing house. Later on when I was learning to drive a bicycle much too big for me, I would lean it against the trunk of a basswood tree while getting on the bicycle seat, give myself a push and pedal down the lane. As a teenager responding to a request on radio, I helped my mother gather up enough little round balls of basswood seeds to fill one of Dad’s tobacco tins and mailed them off to a forest preserve for planting.
Some of those seeds had obviously escaped our attention, rooted themselves and over the years grown into dozens of basswood saplings. Carefully digging around the roots of a fine specimen, I removed the little tree, laid it carefully in the trunk of my car and drove back to our suburban home, where it was planted in the front yard.
The basswood grew rapidly, soon stretching up higher than the eaves, then higher than the roof. Sucking up the rains in summer, its leafy canopy offered cooling shade as the moisture evaporated during heat waves. Robins built their nests in the sturdy tree every spring, squirrels skittered up and down its tall trunk in fall. The basswood offered shelter from stormy winters, the snow sifting through its sprawling branches like flour.
When we sold the house and built one next door, our new neighbours appreciated the basswood as much as we had, and I could still look out my kitchen window and see the tree that now towered at least 40 feet tall. Upon retirement, those folks eventually sold the house and moved away. What would become of the basswood?
While chatting over the fence with the next neighbour who moved in, he invited me to give him a grand tour of the yard just to acquaint him with all the various trees and perennials in his new yard. I told him about the basswood.
Last week the doorbell rang. After making a bit of small talk, the neighbour said, “I hate to tell you this, but your favourite tree has to come down. The arborist tells us it is no longer safe in a strong wind and could crush our roof.”
This morning the tree service trucks came with all their equipment and the sound of chain saws spelled the inevitable. The basswood tree was dismembered limb by limb.
I cried from the pain of losing it.
A vacant sky stares back at me now when I look out the kitchen window to the spot where the basswood branches once waved their greetings. The loss of that tree is a sharp reminder of my own mortality, for even if a new basswood sapling were planted in the same location tomorrow, at my age I will never live long enough to see it grow to maturity.
The prophet Isaiah said, “Like the days of a tree are the days of my people” (Is 65:22). Like the basswood, I, too, had my start in humble rural beginnings, transplanted to suburban life not long after I was married. Faced with the responsibilities of motherhood, I began sinking my roots deeper and deeper into the Christian faith, sucking up that living Water and dispensing its comfort to our children who at times needed shade from the harsh realities of life. Our home offered a safe haven for our growing brood, a shelter in the face of storms, where they grew and matured so rapidly. Then one by one they felt the wind beneath their wings and we were left as empty nesters.
Over the years I developed a habit of waving to them as they came and went, but eventually the day will come when only a vacant window will stare back at them. I hope my empty spot will jolt them into realizing the brevity of life, much as the loss of the basswood tree has done for me. The sense of finality is deep and it is real. To paraphrase the poet, “Tears are shed by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.” And God alone knows the span of life, whether in terms of trees or people. I cannot recapture the past.
As for the future, Psalm 139:16 says, “In thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” The one consolation comes in making the most of the time I have left, however long or short that span of years will be.
Barkman is a freelance writer who lives in Winnipeg (almabarkman.com)