Yesterday we chopped a tree down. There were 5 Maple trees all growing out of one small spot – so we took this one out to give the rest a better chance to thrive. Plus, our vegetable garden will get more sun. And we’ll have firewood for next season. And R will build a charming little reading nook nestled into the other trunks. Okay, it’s this that really sold me on taking it down – imagining this sweet place to read.
Still, it took some time for me to agree, to let go, to get ready to – well… grieve a little. I’ve lived in this house for 17 years so of course there are memories attached to everything.
I held a rope taut ready to guide the wood away from the hedge and road as R cut a wedge of trunk first on one side, then the other. With a huge crack, the tree fell to the lawn as if it was shot. Prone, it appeared more massive, a daunting crush of wood. We spent most of the day cutting branches and logs, turning our tree into pieces. “We need to have a ritual bonfire.” I said. We cannot simply trash these twigs, bundle them off to the town brush dump. We’ll burn them in our fire-pit, perhaps with neighbors or just the two of us will raise a glass and stare into the flames recalling years of shade, the different voices of wind and rain channeled through foliage and fractals. These branches were visible from our bedroom window – a best seat to watch squirrels scramble between limbs, Woodpeckers banging, Chickadees tweeting. We need to herald this wood off with a blessing.
Now a weird emptiness lingers in that space. Perhaps it’s like Phantom Leaf Effect – when a part of a leaf is cut off, it is still visible using a special photo technique that captures energy. Amputees experience this too, feeling sensation and even pain long after losing their limb. So the energy remains, some essence invisible to the naked eye. I’m anxious for the remaining trees to leaf, perhaps easing this sense of nakedness in our garden. How can I not be mourning a little, the absence of this tree. Or to think about death?
I cannot avoid it, especially in Spring even as everything around us promises new life. For me, the sweet scents, the vivid morning light, remind me of a terrible morning on May 1st. This year is the 10th anniversary of my husband’s suicide. Enough time has passed that I mostly remember the man I loved, my daughter’s father, rather than the often frightening shell he’d become at the end. The mourning of possibility never goes away when someone dies too young – like a phantom limb, sometimes, inexplicably calling to us. Grief brings such darkness in the early days of loss, yet I’ve heard from others and experienced myself, there comes a light like we’ve never seen before, made all the brighter by the shadows.
Cleaning up this downed tree on an impossibly brilliant Spring day, I honor darkness and make space for light.