I was 2 ½ years old when my family moved from our first home in Hayward. It was here I learned to crawl and squawk, and apparently learned to love trees.
On the day we moved, our family had a caravan of pickup trucks to haul our treasures to our new house. My parents tried to stuff me into the black Volkswagen Bug with the oval window in the back, but I grabbed onto the tree in the front yard. I’m betting my parents laughed when they took the photograph of their youngest child, squalling like a wounded hyena. I was young, and pre-verbal, but making my first big stand for something I believed in.
“I hate change,” I would have wailed, if I was at an age where I could speak in complete sentences.
We visited the house once or twice before we left the town forever. The new residents cut down “my tree.”
I’ve had other tree loves over the years, including the weeping willow in Auntie Jeanne’s backyard in Benicia. A single rope dangled from the strongest limb. It was here I learned to “fly” on the plank swing.
My aunt and uncle also loved that tree, and tried to keep it as part of the family. However, the tree sent roots in every direction, which repeatedly ruined the plumbing.
In college, I loved many a tree. I liked the gnarled, bush-like tree outside of Laxson, which seemed like it would gladly hug you if you lingered long enough. At One-Mile, I grew fond of a tree near Sycamore Pool, where I wrote poetry and watched strangers from a distance.
Why a tree? I think it’s because when we spend time quietly, we spend time with our most intimate thoughts, and the tree is there as an open-minded witness.
Today, I adore a nearby maple tree. It’s so tall you can’t see to the top clearly without a pair of binoculars. If there was a tree that “knew me,” this would be it. Most of my most embarrassing and triumphant moments have been in the grace of this tree’s shade, and it even wears a few scars of my making.
I do not know if I ever actually “talked to this tree,” but there have been times when I felt it was listening.
The older we get, the more we should come to expect things to change. This summer was another big loss. All of the trees in my yard were chopped down. I can’t say that I had any deep-rooted love for these trees, but I sure do miss the shade. I don’t leave the air conditioner on while I’m away. The sun beats down on the roof like an angry hammer of Thor. I now keep my chocolate in the refrigerator and have moved dozens of plants under a sun shade.
When I take walks in my neighborhood, I want to talk to strangers and remind them to give a few minutes of appreciation for the trees in their yard.
“Look at that tree! Look at your shaded porch. Can you imagine life without these trees?”
I would say all of that and more, but I suspect those strangers would think I was a wacko.
Sure, some trees make a mess in the fall or require expensive trimming every decade. However, life without shade is dismal indeed.
And here is the lesson learned, the hard way as usual. Before the trees were lost to the chainsaw, I took them for granted, disparaged them, resented them. The lowly loquat, the garbage-dumping silk tree, the most-hated privet … The mulberry tree alone escaped my scorn. Had I known what 103 degrees would feel like without those trees, I would have talked to them more often. In retrospect, I should have given them more praise.