The storm descended in full fury on a Thursday afternoon. It let loose on the short trip home: surging wind, driving hail, blinding rain. There must have been thunder and lightning too but I was focused on what little I could see of the road and traffic when I could see it. I was frightened by the aging oak towering over the road at the stop sign. Leaves ripping off, swirling in the air, it’s large branches bucking and swaying. My quick glance up saw them spinning, ready to crush anything below if they fell. The car ahead finally moved. Only then did the rain part enough to see the way through blocked with broken branches everywhere. Afraid to sit there, unable to go forward, I backed up fast to the curb and farther back praying nothing was behind me, so much rain, impossible to be sure. Breathing hard I waited. A pause came calm enough to weave the car through the mess, go a few more houses and get inside until the rage blew away. We saw and heard of damage all around. It was only later we discovered our own.
I lay awake that night contemplating the storm. It felt I’d lost a friend. In the morning I woke pondering friendship itself. The question of how exactly the word “friend” is defined pushed me out of bed where I had been deeply at rest in the early, cloud-covered dark.
I read lists of definitions on search engines at last settling down with Merriam-Webster. “One attached to another by affection or esteem” limits the word’s use to relationships between persons. Most of the others were of like kind. But I held to another further down, “a favored companion” for the loss I felt, the loss that filled my mind’s eye as I had lain in bed that night and sat in morning meditation.
For it was not a person as such is defined, but a beautiful, healthy tree that was lost. The nearing twenty foot Trident maple was struck by the lightning I did not hear or see, its trunk shattered into three ripped and twisted shreds left hulking on the far side of the yard. The Trident of one now in its namesake of three. “All gone. No more.” came out in a whisper as I stood in the steady rain and deepening gray of evening. The beginning of an ache lay across my shoulders and moved to nestle in my heart.
Maybe fifteen years old it was, planted with the intent of its fall color gleaming down this street past the time of our own lives. But, no. It’s time came to an abrupt end without any anticipation of the sudden decisiveness of its passing. A gloom descended upon the garden with one sharp crack of fire, devolving further into the gloaming of the how’s and when’s of finishing the lightening’s job. The slicing of it apart from itself to hack it further into pieces and chunks for disposal and clearing from our lives.
The skyline is lower now, more revealed, to the east. At certain times of the year when the earth turns just enough south sunrises will be earlier seen. And those few huge, orange moon rises that come at other times will no longer require the brief steps out to the passing sidewalk to watch their climb in awe-struck marvel. A few gifts from the lightening I guess. Lamenting the loss I will take what is left.
The Trident’s color last year was breathtaking. It took mine away each time I drove up the street toward it, to home. I would sit in the car and smile, stand on the walk and thank it, revel in its beauty. Time had finally ticked to its reaching of maturity. It was the first year its full magnificence was on display. So much so that it could not help be noticed and remembered a year later and eagerly awaited for its reappearance.
Lush in leaf it had become and after the burst of standing brilliance – red, yellow, orange, all of them glowing in harmony – the maple let that bright end of the spectrum of color loose, a chorus of autumn drifting in the air for days. Settling into great piles of deep leaves to rustle through, not at all a bother because of the joy they had raised just weeks before.
We chose not to gather those leaves. Instead we raked them into the long line of shrubby bed, mostly forsythia all gangling out and about, that is the garden’s far boundary. Our idea was to let the leaves feed what plants grew there while sheltering roots from the coldest season. As well our thoughts were of widening the bed in a natural way, encouraging the forsythia’s wandering, and lessening the mowing.
The remains of those leaves are still seen. Some ground down into scars of mud with the split trunk and branches that slammed down within the storm’s screaming, hard upon them. Last year’s dead ones now covered by those that followed though these are still green, still attached, still pulling the sap from the bright white, cleaved open cambium of the tree. As what is left of the tree stands splayed open, dying. The slow process of a wooded one’s dying which we will dispatch in quick precision with chainsaws, noisy, grinding and sharp.
I wish for it now that it was in the woods. Where it could move along this ending path with quiet and dignity and grace. Giving of every part of itself all that it has to give to beetles and birds, lichen and moss, animal and earth. And, after that, when all is gone but the last remaining furthest out ring of its trunk, even then, still giving to any others that are near, nurturing through its roots somehow, to become the mother tree.
I am grateful to this tree that grew from the trim sapling we planted, brought home from the nursery whose doors were closing yet its price was still a splurge. A special tree selected to stand in front of the low brick office that is storied to have long ago been hidden within trees, along a street once lined with maples. I am thankful for its straight spine of a trunk, and how easily it responded to our minimal shaping. Enamored I was – still am – of its bare silhouette in winter, chartreuse blush in spring, deep green shade in summer and glorious, brilliant-hued fall.
I am sad to lose this favored companion, my friend. No tombstone to mark its life, though maybe let its stump remain. And perhaps find a way to plant another near its drip line, among its roots, so that it may reach out and show the way of the maple in the garden.