EYES LIFTED ABOVE THE ROOFTOPS, I walk along the backstreets of my neighborhood, trying to see only the form and character of the trees that now fill my field of vision. Ash and oak, beech and maple, birch, gum, spruce and pine, other trees I can’t name; a fractal canopy, sometimes symmetrical, sometimes broken; I break my reverie only to watch where I’m going. The houses and lawns and cars seem out of place, or at best guests who must soon leave and leave all as it was before. I am trying to sustain a fact-fictional dream in my mind as I write on my memory both knowledge and feeling, imagining a past part real and part longing unfulfilled.
There is one particular place, halfway down a block, with long-needle pines towering on both sides of the street; the soft dead needles beneath lay a brown carpet. When the summer is warm enough you gather the pine fragrance just by walking by. Neither these neighbors nor these trees know my name, but this is the place where I remember who I was, by the sea, in the coastal southern pine forests of my youth. And I remember who I never became, yet may still embrace, if I can bring the ages back with me.
My neighborhood is 50 years old. Its polish has been rubbed off and it shows scuff marks and loose threads here and there. Yet as the houses have aged, the remnant of forest they were set down in matured, and spread. Trees that were saplings are now a half-century old, and those that were already that age are now a hundred. In the autumn, the bit of suburban sprawl I call home is so beautiful it hurts, and I wonder why such glory must be the harbinger of even temporary death. The stark splendor of bare winter trees leaves me empty.
Every spring I try to catch the sugar maple in my front yard in mid-bud. If I can do that, if I can see time as it happens, I can believe I am not so caught up in myself and the whirl of my circumstances that I have lost the real world.
The maple is old and furrowed now, with bark stained black from years of woodpecker holes oozing sap like life-blood. The tree is broken and cracked and narrowed down from wind and ice and its own weight. Last late spring we almost had it taken down. So many broken and dead limbs had to be taken out and the rest so sharply trimmed that half the tree is gone. But the remainder has shot out secondary growth that has spread for two seasons. I did catch the budding this spring. And this summer the shadow of a Real Thing, lessened but living, will shade my memory.
ON PATMOS, ST. JOHN SAW THE COMING KINGDOM OF GOD—a new heaven and a new earth. In the center of the city that is the center of the new creation he saw the “tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). I know that everything in the Book of Revelation after chapter three is symbolic, but that doesn’t mean it is not real. And there are certainly new trees in the new creation. And I will walk there and gaze and remember and be healed.