Early this morning I went for a walk, that lovely time of day when the sun has just risen and the light is soft, as if it is tentatively testing the day and deciding whether to stay.
I was happy to be walking, because it is a gift to be able to take your own steps. I was also happy because it is February and most of the country is lucky to get out their front door.
I was happy, too, because I passed many trees. We are fortunate to live in a neighborhood of trees. I know everyone is not so lucky. I have visited tree-less places. There is something missing beside the obvious. But it's also true that so many times I don't notice our trees, busy as I am going about some forgetful task. I don't think I'm alone in this. We often ignore the things that matter.
But on this morning I was just walking, and so the trees loomed large and small in my eyes and my mind.
I have many happy memories of trees. You may too. My memories of trees begin in childhood and continue on to this early morning which, since life is that way, will also become a distant memory soon enough. Walking our neighborhood I saw trees that reminded me of so many things. As the sun rose the light wound among the trees as if searching out more memories for me.
Often trees go unnoticed. But sometimes they stop you in your tracks.
Some of the trees I knew are gone. Once we had an oak at our curb. By oak standards it was unimpressive, but we were mightily impressed for at the time half of our family was under the age of ten and so the oak loomed like some giant beckoning beanstalk.
Countless times I hoisted our two boys up to the lowest branch so that, when they were very young, they could sit right down on the branch and know what it was like to be very tall. In short order sitting grew old and they began to climb. Their beautiful mother and I had different ideas on what was safe and what was not, but their mother is both wiser and sweeter than me, and so she saw that this climbing thrilled them and tested them and gave them confidence they might later need, and so she stood beneath the oak wringing her hands, perhaps in part because she thought their father would be the first to plunge down through the canopy. After a time, we boys decided a rope swing was required. Soon most of the neighborhood kids were spinning wildly out into the street (yes, worry warts, I looked to make sure no cars were coming), laughing as they fended off the trunk with their feet. But oaks grow old as people do and our oak had a head start on us. I was told it was rotting from the inside. And so the city's tree workers cut it down.
Trees are like that. Always there for you, stalwart and steady, often fading into the background, almost unnoticed, and then they are gone. Trees are like some people.
I, too, was lucky to grow up in a neighborhood of trees. We had a crabapple tree by our curb. Our crabapple provided the neighborhood kids with hours of summer entertainment. Rolling the marble-size crabapples down the sidewalk (we lived on a steep hill) we would madly prance about, stomping crabapples into the sidewalk. Looking back, I know this must have driven my father, a tidy man, a little crazy. But he stood quietly and never stopped our game. Some fathers are like trees.
My father's son no longer climbs trees (although now that he's thinking about it, he might take it up again), and our two sons don't either. They are in college and preoccupied with other matters. Sometimes when we talk to them on the phone they sound very adult: worried about tests, worried about internships, worried about getting no sleep. Perhaps climbing high into a tree would do them some good.
On this morning's walk I saw many trees they once climbed. I passed one curb-side tree that still has the same swing they swung from every time we walked by (really, how much time does it take to take one, or a dozen, swings?). The wood seat is sorely weathered (in a fashion that makes you smile), but the rope has been replaced by a succession of home owners. On this morning I resisted the urge to swing (the rope didn't look that sturdy), but I did tap the tree with a finger and say a silent thanks because nothing stays the same. One day city workers will come to this tree. Rotting trees are dangerous. They are only doing their job.
But my favorite trees are the ones I knew when they were children. The trees, I mean. I remember planting a few of them at our local playground. When our boys lived (this is very close to the truth) at this playground, the trees were saplings, held upright by supports. Still, they bent slightly under the weight of their few meager branches and smattering of leaves. Our boys hid behind the trees, without much luck. When they did, I saw clearly how small boys are like saplings.
Standing in the soft morning light I realized I had not walked to this playground in a very long time.
The trees I knew were gone. In their place were trees, wide-girthed and majestic, with branches reaching high into the sky. There were so many places to climb and hide.
Trees are like children, and children are like life. They sneak up, and pass by you, suddenly.