Thursday, August 4, 2011

African Sumac and Maple Tree-Hugger

This tree reminds me of Tennessee. I sit in the glider beneath it of a morning and I look up, up, up into the tangle of its branches, and I feel a little closer to that ninety-eight acres in Tennessee where I grew up. I can just about imagine I'm there again. After all, when I'm peering up at the great blue sky between those boughs, I do not see my neighbors' houses just across the fence, do not hear the traffic on all the streets that surround me, and I don't contemplate what I need from the grocery store a mere five minutes' drive away. No, I see green, and in Tennessee there was so much green; there were so many trees.

Trees are the stuff of life - literally for us humans - and in a very poetic sense for me. One of my earliest memories of loving a tree in Tennessee is of my dad lifting me up into the branches of a maple's canopy. This maple stood just outside the yard fence on a small slope above a hollow. It was the focal point of the view from the north-facing window in the living room, and it has been the focal point of some of my dreams since we left that little square house. My siblings, of course, were more than tall and strong enough to grab and climb the lowest branch of this tree and swing themselves up. For so long I never could quite get myself up behind them, though I always attempted it. My dad pushed me up, and Mama came, too. Then we spread out in that maple's boughs, the six of us, as Dad told us a story. I don't remember the tales he told on our picnics in that tree, but I can hear his baritone voice and hear Mama telling me not to venture out any farther on my chosen branch.

I haven't told my kids stories beneath this tree, but we've whispered and pointed from the glider at the sudden spying of a lizard, dragonfly or hummingbird. We've fled laughing beneath it from the spray of the sprinklers in the yard. I've lifted my oldest ones up countless times into the crook between its branches, or sat my kids in a row on its lowest limb, and I've held my babies and toddlers aloft to feel its sticky leaves. I've even dangled my own self, arms and legs limp, across a low-lying branch, pretending that I had been deposited there by a storm the night before. It hurt my tummy, and I'm sad to say, I got few laughs for my efforts and at least one definite rolling of the eyes.

You can see from the picture that the tree is sick. We've been advised to cut it down, because a fungal infection or some such thing is killing it slowly, splicing the bark from its limbs and opening it up to more disease. I won't let it go; it's the only tree in our backyard, and a backyard without a large tree in it is nowhere I want to be. We paid to thin its branches, so it wouldn't break so easily in the monsoon winds, and we've paid to have it fertilized and trimmed again, so we could invigorate it and shave off its lifeless extremities. This summer, it's been valiantly marching on. Except for its bark that scales off with any rough touch like sunburned skin, its branches are full and leafy, and if it doesn't look exactly healthy, it is still present and looks as if it means to be for a while.

And I mean to sit beneath it of a I always do.


  1. Love this story, Hillary. How could that beautiful big tree not make it with your tender, loving care?

    Hope it gives you and your family many more years of joy. :)

  2. I hope so too, Jayne. It has a strong spirit, and I can't imagine my backyard refuge without it.

  3. I like your writing a lot. There are so much about trees that I like too. One of my favorite book is the Giving Tree, it made me laugh and cry like no other. I hope you find a way to save yours.

  4. Shopgirl, The Giving Tree is classic! And our big tree has given us so much in these few years; I hope it will keep us company for many more.

  5. Ah, yes; I love trees - I refuse to hug 'em, but I love 'em.

  6. Papa, I've always known you disapproved of my tree-hugging ways...


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