Sunday Morning ~ The Way It Was Leaning
Mtengo ugwera komwe udaweramira. ~ The tree falls toward the way it was leaning.
~ Chewa proverb
December 6, 2020
We’ve had a couple of big storms here with strong wind and gusts up to seventy miles per hour. I was worried part of the roof would come off. The rain was coming sideways from the south, hitting the house where it’s least protected. Storms usually come from the northeast not the south and the rain was impressive, let me tell you. At one point, water dripped from my kitchen ceiling and I scurried around looking for the point of entry. Finding all floors above it dry thereby eliminating any broken pipes, I figured the sideways rain had found it’s way in through a window and decided to ignore it while I had a taping for a radio show we were doing about midwifery in Maine. I was grateful the internet hadn’t gone out. I figured the water would dry up sooner or later, but I needed the internet for the next hour and a half. In my hierarchy of needs at the time, internet was more important than a collapsing ceiling. When we were done with the taping and happy with how it went, I went to check on the ceiling and it had stopped. The rain had lessened to a light mist and the wind had died. It was eerie how quiet it was after twenty four hours of howling. Darkness had set in so I had to wait until morning to see how many trees I’d lost. Thank God the huge maples standing close to the house were safely split into sixteen inch logs in my wood rack and I no longer had to worry about them falling on my house. Others however, are still out there leaning.
The last time my son was home he pointed skyward and said, “That pine is dead at the top.” I looked straight up; that’s how tall this tree is. It’s trunk is like a wall next to my car. I said, “Holy smokes, you’re right. I never look up at the top.” I could see the top third of the tree was dead and branches the size of smaller trees were hanging over the cars. It’s not a redwood or anything, but the tree is at least sixty feet high, and I couldn’t imagine having to take it down. It’s part of the landscape here. Small spawns struggling for sunlight crowd around it. Each storm brings down more and more branches and it’s only a matter of time before one hits the car. My gaze followed the way it was leaning and I could see if it fell it would crush my cabin, and depending on the time of day, it’s inhabitant.
When we first bought this land I fell in love with every tree. We mapped out where to build the house around some of the most beautiful pines, maples, and oaks. We hired a guy with very small equipment who was willing to work around them when digging the foundation. I piled rocks around their bases to protect them when we backfilled around the house. Given new space and sunlight, they grew like crazy. Their branches sprawled out until they were scraping the house during each storm, and heavy snow would have them resting on the roof. It got to the point where I would lie awake at night listening to them creaking close to my ear, envisioning them entering through some window. Two years ago I said goodbye to four of them, the ones closest to the house, and had them taken down. I tortured over it, but when I finally made the decision, I thought better to do it surgically then have them fall and take the house with them. About ten minutes after they were down I barely missed them. No one even notices they’re gone.
In September, standing in my bedroom I heard a loud quick crack. I looked out the window and watched a large birch fall by my pond. I watched it drop as if lightening was striking, just missing my garden fence. It bounced a little as it hit the ground, then just laid there. I imagined it sighing, as if grateful to rest. It had been leaning that way for awhile and I shuddered, not because I loved that tree (which I did) but because my grandkids were always out at the pond looking for frogs. I imagined them under that tree. It would have killed them. I wondered which way they would have run. In a panic, they might not have escaped. It fell rather cleanly, missing both the garden fence and the teak love seat, so no damage done, but I couldn’t shake the what ifs. Birches don’t live that long. They shoot up gorgeously, dot the woods with their pretty bark, offer up canoes and baskets, yield sap for syrup in the spring, dappled shade in the summer, and pretty yellow accents in the fall. But their base rots earlier than other species, and they fall the way they are leaning, easy, dropping to the ground becoming food for various insects and an occasional mushroom. Or in this case, pretty logs for the fire.
I have loved this land from the minute I first set foot on it. We walked two steps into the thickly wooded lot and I said, “This feels right”. I could feel the slight incline and thought what a nice driveway it would be. I saw the diversity of trees and imagined the yard and garden surrounded by them. Thick evergreens would protect us from the road. I’ve spent a lot of time with these trees. We cleared the lot ourselves, cut smaller trees with a chainsaw and dragged them out to a pile. That allowed us to see which others had to come down as we sculpted the woods into a frame for our lives. Life was always so full, so many people, so many guests, so much living on this land. I have always felt connected, but the tie I feel now is more so. To be here, without distraction, alone and continual, gives me an even deeper connection to the trees. I see the buffer from the road getting spindly and tired. Each storm leaves more and more of the weaklings either leaning on their superiors or supine. I haven’t pulled them all out, a chore usually reserved for the day after Thanksgiving when in (what I consider) a fun afternoon, guests and I create a teepee for the bonfire. That didn’t happen this year; I will leave them where they lay for now. I will have the huge pine taken down before it falls. The first thirty feet of it are so straight and solid, I’ll be sad to see it go. Turn, turn, turn. My guy came to give me an estimate and I lamented the change it would create. He said, “Within two years you will see all this small stuff flourish once the sun is allowed to get in theyah.” I looked up at the hundred pound branch above my little car and said, “Okay. I’m letting it go.”
I looked at the nail in the trunk where I hung a vase of flowers for Rachael’s wedding, where I hung a candle for winter parties in years past. Below that were missing chunks of bark where drivers misjudged this landmark, the sap immediately dressing the wound. Just like other stuff I’ve had to let go in life, I’ve got the stories and the memories, and the vacancy will allow others to grow.
Love to all,