She cried and cried and said how can it be?
There used to be no roads here
Only trees –Natalia Zuckerman
My back patio looked like an environmental version of a CSI crime scene. Sawdust littered the porch stairs and outdoor furniture like the stuffing from some weird, wooden piñata. It stuck to the veins of plants and shouldered itself in small piles against the slats of the fence. Broken tree limbs were scattered around our fenced-in yard, their leafy crowns looking shocked in their abrupt severing.
Over the fence I saw a lone Tree Guy methodically dragging pieces of the tree over to his black pick-up truck.
“Are you taking this tree?” I asked, my eyes traveling up the tall, naked stalk of what once was a lovely maple in our neighbor’s yard. Even as the words left my mouth, I thought duhh. What did I think he was going to say? No, lady, it’s getting a make-over. How do you feel about pink leaves instead?
“Yeah,” he said. “Taking both trees actually.” I swung my gaze to the other maple resting about 5 feet from where its sister had stood.
“Both?” I stupidly parroted. I felt like Cindy Loo Who in Dr. Seuss’ Grinch story: Why, why are you taking our trees? Why? Tree Guy waved me off with mention of the neighbor’s plan to widen their driveway, build a new stone wall, make a bigger play space for the kids.
Though the trees technically, literally, totally completely were on our neighbor’s property, I still felt a sense of propriety. The trees’ thick crowns gifted both of our yards with shade in the summer and with the delicious orange and red candy tones in the fall. One side of my study faced the trees and in the autumn it felt like I was sitting in the middle of a lava lamp. Perches to birds and what looked like a complicated network of superhighways for squirrels, the trees were gentle, friendly residents as much as any of us in the neighborhood.
I ain’t gonna lie: I took it hard. There were tears (mine), profanities (mine), elaborate fantasies involving Monkey Paw-level voodoo (mine again). I went into full Lorax-I-speak-for-the-trees mode, gnashing my teeth over urban encroachment and our shameful treatment of the environment. You would have thought they had broken ground on a Native American sacred estuary to build a Walmart instead of making a few modifications to their own yard.
They’re only trees, came the gentle reminder from a few friends whose ears I had flooded with my first world whining. From a big picture perspective, they were right, which made me grumpier. Intertwined in their response was another, also gentle, reminder about change and acceptance and the inevitable impermanence of things. Cliffs wash into the ocean; entire forests disappear under bulldozers; stars explode and collapse. Stars–the stuff of gas and microscopic dust particles that seem in endless supply! Even these wink out into the ether after a few million years.
It might not be an ideal system to you, dear little control junky, was the subtext, but it’s the only one we have at the moment and even that is only on lease. They were right, again, which made me grumpier still.
By the end of the week both trees were gone, ghosts. Traces of voodoo thoughts remained. The morning after both trees had come down, I wandered into my study armed with my stubborn pensiveness, prepared to remain sour and irked. I walked in on a room usually muted at that time of day, but was now lit up in the bright morning sun.
The space took flight, elevated by the clean, clear light coming in from the two sets of west-facing windows. One of the reasons for choosing this “room of my own” was because it received some kind of light all day, even if that light was somewhat muted from the trees.
I sat down at my desk and gazed out the window to my right where the trees once were. Now I could see a large expanse of blue sky, revealed like the widening of a camera lens, exposing an entirely new view. Massive trees several yards away were visible. Everything was transformed, but not in the way I had imagined. The word “free” sparked across my brain followed by the thought “this is actually really nice.”
I didn’t realize the trees were keeping something out because I believed I needed what they kept in more. We can get so invested in trying to lash ourselves to what feels familiar and comforting, with what gives us a sense of orientation that we miss the invitations for growth and discovery ushered in when we allow ourselves to be uprooted.