I have been noticing trees lately, more than I used to. I think it has to do with owning a home, having a yard, going on daily summer walks through the neighborhood, past the same trees. My neighbor tells me the tree in my front yard got struck by lighting a few years ago. It made her house shake, yet the tree still stands, a survivor. I notice how the wind moves through our big tree in the backyard, how the shade moves across the grass in the afternoon. Trees ground us, mark time, offer comfort and easy presence.
In her memoir about her husband’s sudden death, The Light of the World, Elizabeth Alexander writes:
Ficre is not here to tell me what kind of trees my parents are, but I know they are mighty trees. They do not yield to the wind; they go straight up, unbending…. I think of my parents as having many colors ranging from the new greens of spring to autumn golds. But they have the constancy of perennials. All shelter and trunk to lean on, my parents stand like trees and survey everything.
I like this image of my parents as trees. My mom is a thin tree, one that can move in the wind without breaking. My dad is more sturdy, unmoving, plush. My parents are both very active. My dad golfs and coaches, still works four days a week and goes in on his day off. My mom dances, walks, paddle boards, stretches. They both lift weights. They stand tall and strong even though they are starting to acknowledge their limits. They are living into their tree-ness as they continue to offer shelter, support, presence.
Now I need to be, like my parents, the one-hundred-year-old oak in our backyard that lives even after hammocks and tire swings have been nailed in and taken down and after the southern Connecticut tornado of 1989 destroyed wide swaths of Hamden as the wind tore down the streets uprooting trees. Our one-hundred-year-old tree stood, as my parents stand, as they saw their elders stand, as ancestors stood…To be a parent is to be terra firma, to stand, is to be planted in the earth.
I am not yet the one-hundred-year-old oak like Elizabeth Alexander, but I am a tree. Since becoming a parent, I have started to feel the roots take hold. I use my trunk and my limbs in new ways to envelop, lift, comfort, swing. I can feel my rings forming as I become more sturdy, planted, present. There is dignity in the act of taking root, offering shade. My instinct is not to flee, but to join my ancestors and stand tall.