Life and Death Among the Trees

Life and Death Among the Trees

 

For weeks now my children have not been able to stop themselves from singing April showers bring May flowers. Even the four-year-old, she who serenades her dinner companions every evening with the months-of-the-year ditty she learned in preschool, knows that this song is not yet quite appropriate. But each one of them also knows that it is raining, again, and something new is just there on the far side of the horizon.

And so they sing.

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Today is the last day of March, and it is raining cats and dogs. It is raining puddles and mud. It is gushing, washing, rinsing, quenching. I planned to visit the library, but this rain is too much even for the tall, waterproof boots I wear in the garden. It is too much even for my one remaining unbroken umbrella. I am drinking tea and typing these words instead.

*

Someone sent me a message. You know about trees. Tell me, why is my river birch dripping water? Why is it trickling, oozing, seeping, leaking? Is something wrong?

Nothing is wrong, I told her. All trees know how to sing, but some trees also know how to cry.

When the weather turns from warm to wet, a birch tree will drip, drip, drip.

*

Last year in Hawaii, I saw trees sheathed in rainbows.

The rainbow eucalyptus thrives in tropical climates. It is happiest in rain-washed places. It sheds its bark, and what remains are long, vertical strips of color: red, orange, green, blue, gray. Rainbows trickle, ooze, seep, and leak their colors down the length of each trunk.

I saw those colors from the car window as we drove toward the North Shore. We had flowery leis in our laps. Later, we tore the string and tossed the flowers and said one more goodbye to the man who died just there, above those waters. Somewhere just to the right of the rainbow and to the left of the singing whale, he went where we cannot yet follow.

*

I visited my friend this week and saw a rough wooden cross in the corner of her small sitting room. It was our Christmas tree, she told me. Now it is our Easter cross.

I’m sure her tree was beautiful. I have forgotten the name, but she said it was some rare variety: silvery and soft. That beauty is lost. What remains is harsh and looked out of place propped in the corner of the room. It can’t be easy, I thought, to live with this cross.

*

Some legends say that Jesus’s cross was made from the wood of an aspen tree. Apparently, these trees do grow in that region of the world. No matter where they grow, aspen leaves startle and stir in even a slight breeze. It is said the tree trembles for what it has seen and how it was used.

I read somewhere that in Hebrew the name of this tree is baca. This is also the name of the “Valley of Weeping” mentioned in Psalm 84. When I go to check my memory against the knowledge of the internet, I find that baca might mean balsam-tree. It might mean mulberry.

It seems there are many trees associated with weeping.

*

In Psalm 84, the Valley of Weeping changes as we walk through it. By the touch of our feet, it becomes a place of springs. Then the early rains come, but they do not bring puddles or mud. They bring blessing.

I do not want to walk through the valley. I am tired of tears (drip, drip, drip). I do not want to trip over the ugly, bare cross in the corner of the room, and I certainly do not want to carry it on my back.

Today, I do not even want the rain.

But I want the rainbows. I want the May flowers. I want, yes I admit, I want the blessing.

I want to know what the trees have always known.

I want to know what it is to be planted, planted so deep and so well, that not even death can pull up these roots.

Oh, death. Where is your sting? You grab at us. You scratch and claw. And what is revealed?

Only rainbows.

Only water.

Only blessing.

Only Jesus.

 

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