Each Spring I sit with the vertical snow bank of white cherry blossoms decorating my childhood cherry tree, now in the neighbor’s yard. I sit for as long as I can manage, breathlessly poised for the moment the petals release into a wind-driven avalanche. I remain entranced for the couple of days they take to fall, musing on the first year I may have noticed this event. I was probably four years old, watching from the same house, these same windows. I fly with the petals, aloft on the gratitude I feel for this personal tradition between this glorious tree and I, for the understanding that time is marked by growth and death. It’s something I have learned from trees, from plants.
Each Summer I watch for the birds to come by the flock to feed on the red, bitter orbs.
This is done for now, and I’m not even a little sad. I welcome the new air given to the sunrises; the unobstructed view of my church’s steeple a block away seems miraculous, although the steeple was always visible.
In this weird pandemic shut-down, it’s hard to think beyond the next few days, few months. I’m sure 2021 will be a monster in ways we can’t picture yet, just like 2020 rolled in and changed what seems to be everything.
For months I have toiled at ground level, removing at the root level over-grown and life-clogging vegetation, raking humus well-broken down from beneath trees left undisturbed for the last several years. Bushes as big as cars were removed with my new-found skills with a saw. An accident of fate got the biomass mulched, and now I plot the winter’s composting, moulding.
The cherry tree gets trimmed to 20-foot tall stumps, suddenly several years from regaining the fecund branches that will grow back to recreate the glorious crown. The cougar in me enjoyed watching the confident young lumberjacks as they wielded their chainsaws to break the tree down into manageable pieces. The smell of sawdust and noise of the saws, the familiar worry over humans at work in trees, were sharp sensory reminders of life in the Pacific Northwest of my wood-burning fireplace-having childhood.
The fireplace was converted to burn natural gas years ago, and I moved to the big city. Change comes to trees, to people. The forest surrounding my rural hometown is no longer a source of winter warmth for me, but the trees still embrace our little village, still make-velvety the steep slopes at the southern end of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I was young, but I saw the end of the timber industry glory days, the end decades later of the federal subsidies meant to support a world losing its living.
Now we worry the world is ending again. Pandemics, election nonsense and the now-a-year-into-it sense of personal anxiety and the burden of living through historical times that make anything in my prior 50-plus years seem naive and child’s play.
It was a comfort to see the cherry tree trimmed and know that, given the fair chance and time, we’d both see another season of blossoms come and go.
The tree thinks it will happen. For now, I trust the tree and think of the hope it offers those of us living in its now-limited shadow.
The birds will return, and I will be watchful.