In January 2019 I posted my first blog piece, “A Closer Look”, in which I talked about how looking closer at things can reveal so much. I gave the example of how beautiful Cedar Waxwings are up close and used this photo:
In my blog piece last month (“Tree Peace”) I showed photos of various trees, some decorated and some winter bare. The bare one is the huge Burr Oak in my back yard. Siting on the back porch at dusk watching the last rays of the sun as they illuminate the branches gets me out of my worries about the world and brings me peace.
Over the two years I have posted these blog pieces I often spend more time worrying about what to write about than actually writing. I was contemplating writing about several different subjects, but nothing was really speaking to me. I kept thinking about our country’s current problems with political division and the ongoing pandemic/lack of vaccine. I pressure myself to write about them. But, so many others are writing some thoughtful and often brilliant pieces. I don’t know that I have anything better to add. I know so many people are agitated and afraid right now, me included.
So, yesterday evening, to escape my worries, I chose to sit outside and bird watch. Had the usual White Winged Doves and Cardinals. I even saw a Hermit Thrush take a bath in our shallow pond. I could hear the laughter of Robins once in a while and the sweet whistles of the many flocks of Cedar Waxwings in nearby yards. And then:
The Cedar Waxwings decided to hang out in my back yard tree. They came in one by one. Some would leave and others fly in to replace them.
Some sat like sentinels while others preened themselves. All seemed to stay in the sunny branches as the shadows grew on the lower branches. I saw one gently put its beak to another’s, like a kiss. There was constant movement and sweet whistling noises. Other flocks of Cedar waxwings were flying over, as were flocks of Robins. All were heading west into the setting sun. Watching them was mesmerizing.
Sometimes it is better to look at things from afar. The birds reminded me of little golden balls, like ornaments. I see in them the beauty of a large, peaceful, cooperative group. I am thankful for this magical gift of nature that swept me away for a while, and I love witnessing the cycling of the seasons once again. I feel the connection to January 2019, although that seems so long ago. I wonder if any of these birds came to our tree two years ago? As the sun continued to lower in the sky, the birds began to leave the tree. Afterwards, the only evidence they had been there were numerous purple bird droppings left on the cover of our outdoor grill.
My right hip is starting to ache a bit from the walk and my legs move stiffly. I am thinking that much of my life seems to be a chore these days. Simple things, like walking, I no longer take for granted. We come upon a pretty tree. I hand the dog’s leash to my husband and walk up to the tree. I want to get a closer look at a flowering branch. It is a Redbud tree, although the small flowers are not red, but purple. The Redbud is an early bloomer. It is only February, but spring is here.
I wonder what it would be like to be a Redbud tree. I could go dormant in winter instead of feeling the depression that kicks in with short, dreary days. No thinking about everything I have to take care of each day. No laundry! No insomnia. No worrying about family and old pets. I would just “be.” I would be rooted in one spot. I could grow tall and wide and my roots could stretch deep into the earth. Bunnies might munch grass and cavort below me. Coyotes will move past me looking for prey. I could be a home to birds and squirrels. My flowers could provide nectar for butterflies and bees. My beauty would fade, but then return again each year. I could live a long time, longer than any human. There is an Oak tree on the coast that is estimated to be at least 1,000 years old. Redbuds are prettier than Oaks, though.
I am a Redbud tree. The air is cool and the sun is warm upon me. I am nourished by rich soil and spring rain. Beautiful purple flowers adorn me. My green leaves are shaped like hearts, but I cannot love. I will give birth to more trees like me as my flowers become seeds in sturdy pods. Someday I will get old. My grey bark will become scaly. I will topple into the dust and will become a log. I will be a bench for nature lovers and a home for little creatures. I will be gnawed by beetles and ants. I wil rot.
My husband is impatient, so I say good bye to my tree and my fantasy. When I get home I pull my field guide to Trees of Texas* off the shelf. I read that the life span of the Texas Redbud is only from 50-75 years! The length of their lives is the same as humans. And trees cannot love. I would miss loving if I was a tree. Oh, well. I will be cremated when I die and my ashes will be spread outdoors. I will become one with all life, Redbuds included, and I will be at peace.
*Trees of Texas Field Guide by Stan Tekiela (Adventure Publications, Inc.; Cambridge, Minnesota)
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.
Thrive, next to most any other plant or structure…
You do not discriminate
But love the one you are with
Prolific, you are a survivor
I admire your tenacity
Hackberry Growing Up Through Chili Pequin Bush
Apologizing to Our Hackberry
I apologize for wanting to chop you down. In
the 18 years we have lived in this house I can never keep up with all the yard
work I feel a need to do. Weeding and pruning. Never ending. I have pruned you
sneaky hackberries over and over again. You grow so fast, disguised among the
other, wanted plants. I didn’t plant you and try to keep you all at bay. But,
you, the one by the back porch: I let you grow at the request of my husband
about 5 years ago. Now you are almost 30 feet tall and your crown is almost 20
feet, providing good shade for our back porch. You are massive.
I apologize for cutting down your parents and aunts and
uncles and siblings and kids.
Lately, my husband and I have regular conversations about
whether or not to chop you down.
We haven’t decided yet. I apologize to you for even bringing
this up. My personifying you and my guilt about the chopping thoughts may yet
keep you alive. ___________________________________________________________________________________
Note: Versions of both the Ode and the Apology were written
4 years ago. After one Spring of our porch and patio furniture being drenched
in sticky tree juice, we had finally had enough. We chopped. I couldn’t bear to
part with all of the tree. This is what
is left in 2019: