Three Trees 

Recently, someone we know commented that the pandemic and other shocking events will, in time, be seen as, “a blip in the road”. Our instinctive reactions were anger, judgment, and exasperation that anyone could dismiss the terrible loss of life, livelihood and divisiveness so easily.

A few weeks ago we had a tree removed from our tiny back yard. Trees are protected where we live, so this was not done lightly. An arborist certified the tree, that was infested by insects, leaned at an angle endangering not only our property, and sheds large chunks of branches at frequent yet unpredictable intervals, needed to come down.  In these quiet Covid times, it was quite an event. We held our breath as the arborist scaled the tree,  removing all its broken branches until only the main trunk remained.  Then shimmying down and anchoring himself safely, (it didn’t look safe enough for us to volunteer to take his place,) he progressively cut slices from the trunk  until he could work his way to the ground. The pieces were hauled away, the stump ground and suddenly everything looked stark and barren. The buildings close by apparently jumped even closer!  We’re now adjusting to the view and trying to decide on the appropriate replacement tree.

When I visit my parents in northern England, I always inspect my favorite tree. They hate this tree, fearing that its roots will undermine their property, and it isn’t even in their garden.  I am fascinated by the magnificent specimen of a monkey puzzle tree, and when I finally get to travel to visit mum and dad again, I’ll be interested to see how much more it’s grown. There are many monkey puzzles in their area. It is the most incongruous species for a landscape that can too often be windswept and rainy. The tree looks exotic and sub-tropical. Its waxy, evergreen, somewhat triangular leaves grow along its extraordinary branches. The branches form a maze somewhat resembling linked monkeys’ tails and you can indeed  imagine a monkey being perplexed as it tries to swing a path through the confusion. Yet the exterior shape of the tree is frequent, smooth and rounded, and it maintains this three dimensional outline no matter how tall it grows. There is an art to propagating the tree from seed or coaxing cuttings into life.  An art we haven’t mastered. Unsurprisingly, monkey puzzles were not native to northern England, and are transplants from Chile and Argentina. There are only a few regions in North America where they thrive.  If you’re lucky enough to see one, spend a moment to stand, stare and smile.

While we had a captive, (so to speak,) arborist we asked him to take a look at the magnificent southern live oak tree that spans our property and our neighbors’. Live oaks were unfamiliar to me before we moved to Florida, and they are part of its charm. They are magnificent, heavy set trees, that develop enormous short trunks and massive canopies. The canopies attract Spanish moss which grows in romantic, gauzy trails from their branches. We learned that these trees are very important, and local legend has it that another one in our vicinity was protected at gunpoint by an elderly woman who, sitting on a rocking chair on her porch, trained her shotgun on the workers who were intent on tearing it down to make way for a new road.

The road divides attractively to encircle the tree that casts welcome shade from the Florida sun.

Black Lives Matter Girl sitting in the sea

It is unclear as to whether the tree’s defender understood that these trees protect the region from hurricanes, or whether, like most of us, her breath was taken away by the awesome beauty of the magnificent tree.  Live oaks have a low center of gravity and heavy branches that crash together in storms and rarely shatter. They form effective windbreaks against the gales and shelter adjoining property over which they often lean protectively.  Our specimen has a decided tilt towards our neighbor’s house, the house being too recent to be effectively sheltered by it.  

The arborist explained that our tree should be “de-mossed.”  Decades of Spanish moss curtains had accumulated to the extent that the moss was choking the tree. 

“This tree is about three hundred years old,” he explained.  “It would be a pity to deprive it of its next three hundred.”

That got me thinking. When we take the long view and think in terms of a six hundred year old tree or longer, it puts things into perspective. We can see that our challenges, our pain, our choices are not just “blips”, they are ways we can choose to affirm life and its outstretching beauty and value.

End Notes

Reading

Journeys North The Pacific CrestTrail  Barry Scout Mann

Listening

Mercy Mercy Me  Marvin Gaye

Sonata in F Minor Domenico Scarlatti   Ovcharenko Illia

Viewing

Bridgerton  Netflix

Poetry

The Hill We Climb   Amanda Gorman

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