Ah! Up then from the ground sprang IEdna St. Vincent Millay
And hailed the earth with such a cry
As is not heard save from a man
Who has been dead, and lives again.
About the trees my arms I wound;
Like one gone mad I hugged the ground;
I raised my quivering arms on high;
I laughed and laughed into the sky
An old friend has died.
I am absolutely heartbroken. I was video chatting with a friend of mine Sunday evening when I heard a sudden deafening CRAAAAACK and watched from the window, my mouth agape, as a large branch of our hundred plus year old silver maple came crashing down.
Breathless with both awe and horror, I apologized to my friend and quickly ended the call, almost tripping over my shoes as I rushed to put them on. My mother was halfway up the stairs in a freak out, her faulty hearing aids picking up the deafening sound. I grabbed my phone and rushed outside.
This tree . . . this tree has been my constant companion. My father built me a sandbox at her drip line, where I played with Matchbox cars and Fisher-Price Little People. When I was a little older, I sat underneath her loving branches to read and dream. My mother and sisters and I would snap green beans from our garden in her protective shadow. And the numerous dogs and puppies that blessed my childhood would pant in her shade on muggy Virginia evenings.
As I write this, the tears flow unabated. In a way, I tied this tree to my father’s death. Photos from the year before he died show a vibrant, healthy tree – her branches lush with green. The next summer, she was patchy with grief — clutches of leaves here and there.
She was the last of a family of four — four tall and stately maples that someone lovingly planted here over a hundred years ago. The first one to go was the brother on the east side of the house — struck by lightning before I was ten. I cried as my father chainsawed it to a stump.
The second was the sister in the front yard — another lightning strike. My mother had wanted to cut it down years earlier, terrified it would fall onto the house. I’d had a swing in that tree. I resented my mother for wanting to get rid of it and was aggrieved when it too was chopped down.
The third sibling was the twin of the current one. Side by side, they watched over the back yard — seeing all the changes throughout the years: swing sets set up and dismantled; sandboxes poured and then scattered; flowers and shrubs planted and transplanted and blooming and then withering. A couple of years after I moved back home, she was lost to a strong wind that ripped her up by her roots and toppled her lush green head.
I couldn’t bear to lose another giant of my childhood in one year. I hired an arborist to come and look at her. Maybe I was missing something. Maybe this was normal behaviour for a tree. One look at his kind face and I knew.
“Silver maples have a lifespan, just like humans,” he said, his neck craned back to peer into her tall canopy. “They tend to live about 130-140 years.”
“Oh,” I said, my voice small even to my own ears. “I don’t know how old she is, actually. But the house was built in 1870 and she was already here when my parents bought the place in the ‘70s.”
He nodded. “It might very well be that old. And it appears like it might have root trauma.”
Root trauma. In the face of my father’s death, this felt all too familiar. But I was still in denial. I wanted to try and save her. So I spent money that I couldn’t really afford to spend in a desperate attempt to keep reality at bay another year. Much like I had in the year leading up to my father’s death. He wasn’t that old. He could hold on another year. Until suddenly he was gone.
My beautiful silver maple produced no new buds this spring. No sweet little green “helicopters” like her younger siblings that dot the edge of the yard. I knew then that it was a matter of time, that I would have to spend money I don’t really have to lay her to rest as safely as possible. Seeing this huge branch, its bulk bending the gutters on the garage on its way down, lying in chunks on the ground, I know it has to happen soon.
Maybe this last maple was sad that she was alone — all the other trees were younger — children and grandchildren of her siblings and her. They did not share the same memories, did not remember the laughter of children, or the tears of a father.
Yet how can I bear to see an empty space where she once stood? Where her strong trunk reached into the sky and watched over me? I will plant again, there’s no question. But the loss is devastating, my chest tight with grief.
It is like losing my father all over again.
A member of the Water Street Writers, Mikaela D’Eigh is a writer, poet, gardener, mental wellness advocate, and a lover of Scotch, K-Pop, and KDramas. She writes about anything and everything, using all the crayons in the box. Currently, she lives out in the country with two Egyptian gods disguised as cats, a herd of cows, and the occasional flock of wild turkeys.
During the month of April, I’ll be participating in the A-Z Blogging Challenge.
My first book, a memoir on grief, will be available Summer 2021. Follow me on the journey to publication!
Image © MAG, 2021