Once I was almost evicted from a dinner party because of trees. In a beautiful house in an old leafy town outside Chicago. I was sad that whole sorry decade because of trees and what people did to them. At the party I drank a lot of wine and talked about trees, instead of children, houses, kitchens and bathrooms or the latest post modern de- constructive menus at the latest restaurant….a particular favorite at the time was a place where they didn’t take reservations, didn’t answer the phone, and didn’t even care if you showed up… there were plenty of people to take your place…… the hostess was very kind, the food was good, but they all wanted me to leave or shut up, and I wished then, like I often do these days at dinner parties……that I was on a long, dark and very lonely road somewhere, flanked by towering elms, chestnuts, lindens, or oaks,… no cars or people in sight, perhaps the sad and lonely scalded moon like bones in the graveyard walking me home….
I remember Grandma’s cherry tree in Canada and all of us spilling into the garden. Aunts, uncles, moms, dads, and all the cousins with their tousled hair and puffy little skirts climbing the cherry tree, catching a branch, searching the ground…. the cherries bright red like Betty Boop’s mouth and sour as lemons with a little maggot inside. We picked them anyway every year– our little family ritual. Then after we had gone, Grandma really picked them, every last one, no maggots, and simmered them with sugar, a little vanilla and something secret she kept in her damp apron grandma pocket, and bottled them up in jars and put them all in a row in the cool dark basement, and next year we would eat them perfumed with the sun and laughter, the joy of that day, our summer vacation cherry happiness.
I remember once living in the slums, and the first time we drove to the rich suburbs of our new city and the trees bigger than houses and wider than mountains filling the sky with green fresh breath as if the world had just been born, and even dinosaur mouths were too small to grab a handful of leaves.
I remember driving in the country and seeing the small white farmhouse with the white picket fence and the barn big and tall, the old elms and horse chestnuts bigger and wider still, the cozy, safe and secure warmth, like a mothers arms wrapping up the whole farm in her goodness. And all the cows, horses, pigs and lambs seemed protected by those trees, even seemed to withstand the tornadoes and hurricane winds that lashed day and night. And in the morning the old trees were still there, glistening with dew that fell on your face like a baptism.
I remember the tree on Oakley Ave, and the first time I saw a stupid person cut down a tree because it was in the way. They didn’t want to rake the leaves, and they didn’t want to mow around it. They wanted more light; they were afraid a branch might fall down. It was easier to cut down the tree. And you, such a big strong man , ran outside unabashedly crying, and begged them to stop but they cut it down anyway. We both had to call in sick that day.
I remember buying my first house, a small cottage with the biggest greenest Elm for miles around. My beautiful tree that I watched from the window each season and especially in winter when it rose up like a hundred black sculpted arms and arrows to the sky. Two years ago it caught Dutch Elm and I came home and saw the silver mark they put on the tree– a sign it would be taken down. Marked like a pariah or leper or condemned man or woman, the silver circle of death. The day they came with their trucks and ladders and chain saws I thought I would pass out from sadness, the horror of seeing that towering tree destroyed. The birds flew out screeching and screaming and shattered the world that day.
J came over immediately and took me to the Botanic Garden and left me there in a corner while she went home to teach. She gave me a bag of peanuts, fruit and a bottle of wine and I sat there weeping and drinking and eating while they hacked down my tree…. she picked me up later and took me to her house for dinner and made sure we didn’t get home until almost midnight so the shock would not be so bad…. but even then at midnight the nakedness, the baldness, the sterile bleak sadness.. we both screamed at the sight and had to cover our eyes. I ran into the house and stayed there for days …
I live in a town where some people build very big houses and often trees are in the way and they cut them down…… the houses are now taller than the trees and this does not seem right to have houses taller than trees. “Do not destroy the trees…”. there is a passage like this somewhere in the Bible but I forget where…. Perhaps one day they will not like the blue sky they will try to make it lower or higher or paint it a different color.
I used to sit in my back yard and watch in amazement two towering silver maples (that some people consider bad trees) in the garden behind me. They were so tall and silver and sometimes on a very windy day with a storm approaching, I would sit in the garden and watch them, and weep over my mother and over all the trees that I have seen disappear over the years… some to sickness some to drought or wind or fire, but too many to accommodate someone’s new kitchen or bath. I sat there one day when the wind got more and more ferocious and my garden was almost shaking as though it would be ripped away. I sat in my chair drinking and looking at the silver maples, how their thousands of leaves fluttered and glinted like old metal, then sparkled shiny like silver and then looked like snow like dew like frosted grey hair floating on cold rivers and the sky got so black and then green, but still I sat watching the old silver maples and I almost wished they would fall on top of me and crush me to pieces…..I forgot to mention those maples were home to hundreds of birds who twittered and chattered and sang themselves silly night and day.
One day a fierce wind broke off a huge branch of one of the silver maples and then a lady developer decided to tear down the charming old brick house, the thirty two year old mature garden and decided the silver maples too would have to go away….
The house next door went one day. And then all the trees on their east side (my west) were chopped down. For years whenever I came home or woke up in the morning I heard chain saws or drills or hammers and something always came falling down. ..
Shortly after the trees next door came down to make way for a huge house with six bathrooms my mother died. I sat there for days in a stupor drinking myself to pieces in my now naked garden, my American dream, my American nightmare suburb with all the trees to the north, south and west of me gone.
I went out and bought two trees and I planted them in honor of my mother and I called them Mamasha. My two trees are now very tall and my yard is almost overgrown almost too shady too wild too crazy too weedy too unkept too unmanicured too insane too schizophrenic paranoid mad… because I want trees and green and no people or houses anymore…… so badly have I been shaken here in my little paradise, the greed for more houses and bigger and better spaces at the expense of nature’s most beautiful poetry….
I was naked alone in the garden with everything destroyed around me for bathrooms and kitchens ……… one day I was so sad for the trees and the birds and the squirrels and even the hummingbirds, who often rest for a long time in its upper branches…and I went up to all my trees and my shrubs and I wrapped my drunken arms around each and every one and I whispered, “I promise I will never leave you and I promise no one will ever cut you down.”