Making Space for Light

2014-04-12 13.30.43Yesterday 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.

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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.

2014-04-12 13.30.50Now 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?

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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.

14 thoughts on “Making Space for Light”

  1. That was a lovely and moving post. Your words and your view of the world are inspiring. I have felt the new space after great, seemingly insurmountable grief. I think of it as a further opening of the heart that enables me to see more and feel more. One effect of that opening, is that I cry now at the beauty of the world, for new life, for a moment of tenderness. It is as if my heart overflows with tears for the beauty of the world.

  2. Yes! Exactly – grief opens us up. Thanks for your insight and for letting me know you are reading!

  3. ‘Making Space For Light’ is a poignant and thoughtful reflection on our relationship to nature, and a powerful metaphor — Thoreau would be proud! I would love to read this again in a collected book of your nature essays.

  4. The last paragraph hits like a ton of bricks. The image of the phantom leaf effect, that resonates with your husband’s death, and despite the grinding, long walk of grief light enters.

    Here’s a poem I wrote a long while ago that might converse with this, though not as powerfully.

    Hired to Do Archeology
    Clermont, New York

    The Hudson looks chipped like glass
    we’ve been finding in the pits–shattered
    in odd curves by a very hot flame.
    Some days I see pearls, boiled over.
    Other days the river chips the obsidian edge
    of a bottle, or pares conchoidal flint.

    Sometimes I muse glass pieces we find
    could be chunks of the river mined
    and later tossed from the mansion.

    The frosted glass cools
    our fingers like summer water.
    It’s cheap in the ground,
    unless it’s a candlestick base
    wrapped with air bubbles,
    or the stem of a wine glass
    with a twisted gauze stair.

    Because they’re broken,
    the wine glass, the candlestick, the window pane
    seem sturdier than when they bore
    wine, and flame, and a view.

    I want to say I’m sorry for your loss. Ten years isn’t long in the ways of grief, but I am glad R is there. As I said that last paragraph wallops with grief and with hope.

    My husband Bruce, is also cutting pines around our farm. The drought got them and I suspect Round Up and some worm. He quietly goes out and does his work. Then when the days are still, burns the branches. Like you I like the view they open up to a tree line which reminds me of a tree line we looked to on the farm where I grew up. They say the old garden was here. I would like to see if blueberries will grown in the piney soil.

    Thank you for the great writing. I’m glad I found you.


  5. A beautiful piece and closing. Trees are extraordinary beings and I know exactly how you feel – have written several pieces on cutting down an apple tree that used to be in our back yard. There is such a distinctive feeling to this time of year and I can imagine how the light and feel of the air connect you to that terrible time. But I love that you are remembering the man before the darkness, that those memories are filling in some of that painful space.

  6. I like that idea – a collection of nature essays! I think I read every nature writer around, when I was a teen. I thought May Sarton had a dream life – although I was a kid and she was ‘old’. Hmm. Maybe I knew where I was headed way back then. Thanks Elissa!

  7. Likewise, Katie – so glad to read your work – something always makes me catch my breath a bit. This poem is lovely. And your prose is so rich with poetry – I think that’s where that breathless effect comes in.
    And your kind words about my writing touch me. Thank you!

  8. I remember reading about you and your trees. Of course you get this – with your great love of nature and home. Am hard at work with your great critique btw.

  9. I find pruning such an interesting concept–cutting back, killing off as it were, in order to promote greater life. It’s something I struggle through as a gardener–I wrote about it in the book I just turned in–but it feels like an annual lesson I need to learn. I always end up thinking about what in my life needs to be pruned to make way for greater light and new growth.
    I had to cut my wisteria back so hard this year, to correct some bad growth patterns I hadn’t caught earlier. Felt awful at the time, but it’s now leafing out and looking much better.
    I hope your maples thrive. And a reading nook! (swoon).

  10. I did once cut back a Lilac so severely it never did come back – so there’s also that risk I worry about! A bit like writing, I often feel like an amateur out there!

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