She stood looking up at the curving trunk of the tree and sighed. Leaning closer, she gently placed the palms of her aged hands upon the bark, caressing it, studying it. Then, with eyes closed, she leaned in and placed her lips on the rough surface. Turning her face to lay her cheek against it, she wound her arms around it. Had she been Gumby, with his wire and rubber arms, they would have gone around it a few times, the trunk more tall that full. “I love trees, and they love me,” she announced. “Oh, why do I love trees so?” She asked, as if begging to be released from the burden of this socially unacceptable direction of emotion.
I stood watching my almost seventy-four year old mother, and in some small space inside, I realized that at one time, I would have shaken my head at her dramatics. But as I watched her today, I instead felt a kinship, a commonality with her, and I knew that I felt the same way. The trees were my heart. And I, too, felt their love even when not in the forest or woods.
We walked quietly to a large fallen tree, sat down, and did not speak. Enjoying the oneness with nature, the peace of complete innocence surrounded us.
Through the haze of my mind, a memory of myself came to me, and the child that I once was came to play in the woods in front of me. The realization of time gone by came over me, and I began to cry. I cried for the time gone by, the loss of that innocence. And through the tears, I saw clearly that my love for the trees was for what they represented – time gone by, but unaffected.
A tree stands strong and proud, and when something stands in its way, it simply grows around it. Industry and technology change and grow, people let go of their innocence and forget the unconditional love that lives within them, but a tree never wavers, never doubts. It keeps its steadfast watch over us, sheltering and waiting for us to return.
Almost in unison, my mother and I arose. It was unclear how much time had passed, as we spoke only sparingly, but years had gone by me. I watched my mother with her walking stick – carved by someone, and the blue flowered scarf she’d wound around her winter cap. She was wearing the Carhart coat that I’d purchased for her for the previous Christmas, and she wore blue jeans with black boots that went almost to her knees. It was a sight I never wanted to forget and I wished, desperately, for a more permanent camera than my mind’s eye. For someday, I will have to return here without her by my side.
But once again, I find comfort in knowing that my mother will always be there, present in the memory of our friends, the trees. Just as I will be there for my children.
We made our way, Mom and I, slowly to the fence where we pushed the physical limits of my mother’s aging body, squeezing under the barbed wire fence. We laughed as she ended lying on her back on the fence line trail on a thin, cottony blanket of snow. Using her walking stick to pull her back up, we walked slowly back toward the house. The cold was nipping at our cheeks, and we knew it was time to go back – even if we would have rather stayed in the presence of the trees with the cold air cleansing our bodies and our minds.
Once back inside, daily life, the present, takes over. But I remind myself that I can return there when I choose, and even if I cannot, the trees are with me in my heart.