Seeing the way children care for each other. Tenderness but no coddling. Breathtaking. I was with my niece and nephew today. Honorary titles but no less meaningful. We see their neighborhood friend up the street all by himself. He’s on the young side to be all alone; not criminally young, but younger than I’d be comfortable with.
“What’s Jason doing up here all by himself?”
“He does this all the time. He doesn’t have a mom.”
“I know, but he’s a little guy to be all by himself like that.”
“But he’s like an outdoor cat. You see Aunt Kiki, me and Evan…we’re indoor cats. But Jason, he’s an outdoor cat…he’s still got his claws.”
“Yeah, don’t worry Aunt Kiki, Jason can take care of himself.”
The thought of an 8 year old, still needing his claws. So he can be an outdoor cat. So he can “take care of himself.” The simplicity, the truth and the profound awareness that every child isn’t as protected and fussed over. And with that, I suddenly feel very old.
I’m sitting in bed listening to the sound of chainsaws; chainsaws that are cutting down the oldest tree in our yard. This tree has been here longer than I’ve been alive. I have never known my house without her. She is so old that she has grown straight up through our fence. When the fence was replaced several years ago, they actually attached the new fence to the part of the old that runs through her heart. But she is sick with tree rot and I can clearly see her rotting at the base from the inside out. If she falls, she will likely take down a good portion of our house and possibly our neighbors’. My sister and I went out early this morning to take some last pictures of her (and with her) before she is put to rest.
I remember playing at the base when I was a kid, listening to my dad’s old Barbara Streisand tapes (“Enough is Enough” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore”) on my “Soby” walk-man. I would sit in the rain, wearing my turquoise poncho with my copy of Harriet the Spy, my umbrella and my giant purple spiral bound notebook, thinking of ways to commit espionage on the family down the street. I would park my bike under her when I played “road-trip” which usually consisted of attaching a construction paper license plate to the back of my bike, tying my Cabbage Patch Kid to its fender and riding in circles around the block until I was so tired I had to pull into the “hotel” which was my room with a room number clumsily attached to the door. I had gone so far at one point as to ask for a peephole for the door, in order to cement my road-trip fantasies. I think my dad would have folded, but thankfully my mom pointed out that a peephole in the bedroom door of a seven-year old is peculiar.
The town has promised to plant a replacement, but part of why I love her is that she’s literally part of the fence and therefore part of the house. It will take years for another tree to grow this big. But even if something is old and sacred, if it is rotting, it needs to be chopped down. It matters not if it’s old and matters not that it’s sacred. It has to go to make room for something healthy. When she is cut down, my memories of her still live; her branches will fall but my childish imagination still soars.
I am reminded of this song by Pearl Jam:
“Up here in my tree, yeah
Newspapers matter not to me, yeah
No more crowbars to my head, yeah
I’m trading stories with the leaves instead, yeah.”
Goodbye old friend