Thankful For A Single Tree

Bald Cypress

                I look at trees every day as a birdwatcher, but I don’t really “see” the trees.  Recently, a friend from Colorado has been e-mailing me of her encounters with various trees and this has prompted me to look at trees a bit closer.  Our native trees have been beautiful this fall. Not just beautiful, but spectacular: the brilliant yellow of the cedar elms and the big tooth maples; the reds of the cypress and the Texas red oak; the intense scarlet of the aptly named flame leaf sumac.

                 I had intended for this month’s blog to be a celebration of central Texas trees showing the rest of the country that:  “Yes, we do have seasons down here.” Driving down nearby streets, the colors would catch my eye and I would tell myself, “I will come back tomorrow and take photos of that tree.”  I kept telling myself I was going to do this, but I kept putting it off. Then, a few days ago I noticed that the tree colors were less vibrant and more leaves were falling off the trees. I realized I was missing, may have already missed, my opportunity. I thought I had already learned my lesson years ago when I did a lot of nature photography:  Take the photo now! “The sky will not look like this tomorrow.”  “That bird may not be in this spot tomorrow.”  

                This is a pattern of mine throughout my life, to plan to do something and then not follow through and then the opportunity has passed, never to return. There is a feeling of shame associated with this habit of procrastination, and a feeling of sadness.   

                On the 13th of this month while surfing the internet, I learned of the death of author Gary Svee. He was someone I had intended to contact.  I wanted to ask him about why he wrote what he did about an ancestor of mine.  I had been given a phone number of someone who knew him and was so anxious about calling a stranger out of the blue that I kept putting this off.  I put it off for a year and a half. Now it is too late.

                I went to his online memorial page and left a note. On the page it said that people were being asked to donate money to plant a tree in his memory. So, I did that.  There is some sort of meaningful connection between the tree leaves transitioning and people transitioning that I am trying to grasp as I write this.  The book of fiction this man wrote was entitled Single Tree and painted a sympathetic portrait of part of my family tree, a great, great uncle.   I wanted to thank him, whether or not my thanks would have been welcome by him. But, I didn’t do this. He will never know what his book meant to me. Maybe he wouldn’t have cared.  I cried when I read that he had died even though I had never met the man. I think maybe I cried more in disappointment at myself.

                So, I share with you here some of Austin’s color and my advice to take action. Colors don’t last. Lives don’t last.

*Obituary for Gary Svee can be found at:

(Tree photos by Betty McCreary)

Prairie flame leaf sumac
Sycamore- leaf snowbell
Big tooth maple

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Born and raised in Central Texas. Spending time outside brings me joy and I love to share my observations. I also belong to two writing groups and enjoy researching my ancestors. I find people interesting, but Nature keeps me sane.

10 thoughts on “Thankful For A Single Tree”

  1. Betty – that was a touching and brave meditation on the ephemeral qualities of life and relationships. I think you did an excellent job of illustrating the tendency we all have of procrastinating, with the loss and shame we feel when that leads to missed opportunities and regrets. And you brought it full circle with his memorial and the request to plant a tree, which will someday grow to display its own colors to be appreciated. The essay was perfect. The thought and feeling behind it, universal. You may not have taken the photograph at the point of perfection, but you’ve taken it now for all of us to reflect upon. Thank you for sharing.


  2. Very touching … easy to identify with.
    Our Central Texas trees can muster up some really striking hues but they don’t do it necessarily on the days that I’m wandering around with my camera.
    And I, too, put off calling people when I sense I’ll be interrupting or interfering with whatever they’re doing. Your post is a nudge to call a couple of cousins … TODAY. Thank you.
    And thank you for the glimpse of Austin autumn.


  3. I read along with your words, Betty, nodding at each interval – I too see the bird and often not the tree; I miss the opportune to take the shot; and I hesitate to make the phone call. What a beautiful reminder. Loved this piece.


  4. I so enjoyed this very human look at procrastination. As I am in the late autumn years and wondering what really matters it seems to me that our human connections are more important than everything else because they are so temporary. Next in line are our connections with the natural world around us. In this essay you captured both and said it so well. Thanks Betty!


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