Cataclysmic “no’s” were all around my neighborhood yesterday. A neighbor cut down a 150-year-old oak tree, a hundred or so feet tall. It was a marvel of human engineering around ropes, piece by piece. It might have been a necessary “no” from the human perspective, as the tree was slowly dying. We have trouble letting anything happen slow, maybe, especially, dying. The tree service made carpenter ants the villain. I won’t say no to that, but I won’t say no to the fact that all the pesticides neighbors pour into the ground might not have been a contributing factor. I will say that yes, at this house, humanly manufactured chemical poisons get a big fat no. I will say yes to the fact that one oak tree like that can harbor 500 hundred different species of caterpillar. I will say yes to the caterpillars; they are the green and brown and black and hairy and smooth protein magic that still wriggling crawls down the eager gullets of bird young, the only way they can grow fast enough to say yes to flight before we give our grudging yes to winter. I say yes to migration, because as the trees come down here, they might just need other places to go.
I say a few prayers to and for that tree. Yes, to acorns. Yes, to dead snags that fertilize the forests where no woodchipper will go. Yes, to decay. Yes, to compost. Yes, to renewal. Yes, even, to death. I am hoping to get closer to that “yes” as I approach my own. Yes, has to be as definite as we can make it, because yes, like that tree I will be found to be fodder for transformation.
I was not completely innocent yesterday. My partner, who owns the property, choose to cut down a Magnolia tree she thought was too close to the house. I couldn’t argue for or against. It wasn’t my business anyway. Except for the catbird. Going to my car in our driveway since our garage is too small for 2, the catbird always is there in that Magnolia, looking at me askance, and mewling with warning that I am on his or her turf. I know a nest there a few years ago. The catbird and I look at each other, in my case with respect, and I can only hope it is mutual. Catbird does at least tolerate me; allowing me to get into my car each time.
When I knew that tree was about to come down, I had to leave. I got in my car and went to look at all the trees in all the neighborhoods and the little riparian strips around me. One mercy of this area is the rain; rain which makes all these creeks, and rills, and rivulets necessary, and which, most blessedly, when this area was being developed, it was found too expensive to put in conduits and cement. Perhaps that’s a bit ungracious, I’m sure many property owners love these creek beds half as much as I do. Feeling an orphan growing up, I grew up in a dry creek bed full of blackberries and fetid ponds, and trees to climb, a path of dry bed to walk on as far as I could go. This claim to creeks comes from somewhere deep. Where I grew up, there were no catbirds. I am very thankful the catbird is here though, reminding me to mind my manners when it comes to territory that is not mine.
The Magnolia tree came down. I went onto the back porch this morning, ostensibly looking for a fresh breath. With only a bit of trepidation, I was looking for a catbird. here he was, looking for worms and bugs, numbers seem diminished, especially this year. I wait in hope that late summer and future years bring more. Sometimes, we wait in impossible hopes, but we still need them.
We had a celebration in the yard today, for the Oak Tree, for the Magnolia, for the catbird, and shudder, every other living thing that was displaced out of home by the niceties of ensuring tidy and safe human homes.
I said some more prayers. I tossed bird seeds and my dried bugs with a greater profligacy than ever before. Knowing, that in all this vast tract of humanity, I was the only one celebrating the life of this tree, on this morning, as I heard other chain saws rattling and roaring in the distance, the only one celebrating all these lives and all these deaths.
By Evalyn Baron
On August 5, 2022
I loved this very much!