It was at my first birthday party and my second. It oversaw my first steps outside, stick duels with my friends, and my discovery of slugs; listened patiently to my early feckless attempts at communication with the squirrels that scurried across its limbs like an equilibrist on a tightrope. Although it stood tall and patient, it wasn’t just an observer or tolerant listener. It was a guardian and protector, against the sun in the summer, and boredom on days when staying inside was just too much to ask of a child.
When I grew a little older, I learned to climb the tree, and it provided a refuge from the dullness of staying on the ground, and the challenge of reaching new heights, visiting previously far-away branches. Although we never had a treehouse, that didn’t make reenacting The Magic Treehouse any less fun. This tree, this woody perennial, was a deep source of shenanigans and ponderings, of imagination and celebrations and occasional sisterly arguments. It provided entertainment and peace in all seasons; we adorned it with Christmas ornaments in the winter, relaxed in its shade during the summer, watched birds build their nests among its outstretched arms in the spring, and selected colorful leaves to preserve between the pages of thick volumes. To this day, sometimes I find a leaf from long ago in one book or another. Painted bird feeders and houses created vibrant spots among the healthy green leaves, and it became the most important part of our small backyard.
Now I am thirteen, and the tree has been cut down. We had known for a while that it was sick, but that didn’t make it any less hard seeing the bare stump and smelling the pungent wood shavings on its execution day. Coming home and seeing sky where there previously were branches and foliage would take some getting used to, but we refused to take ‘no tree’ for an answer. In the ground, not far from the stump of the old tree, we dug a hole, and into that hole, we carefully placed a new, young tree. It will take a while for it to grow to the size of the old tree, but I will watch over it like the other tree did for me, cultivating it so that one day maybe it can be to someone else what it had been to me.