(listening time: 7:56 minutes)
Dear Beloved Sugar Maple,
And I miss you.
You were such a presence during my years here. And long before my family and I moved into this house.
In your 150+ years you witnessed so much. You saw families come and go. Farmland return to woods. Automobiles arrive and roads paved. A house fall into disrepair, then rebuilt and more houses built. You experienced less snow and more rain as weather patterns warmed.
You provided bark crevices for Gray Squirrels to hide their winter stash and an escape route from Asha. Branches where Black-capped Chickadees perched and tapped open sunflower seeds from our feeder. And where a hungry raccoon once watched my beloved grill our dinner.
You hosted graduation and birthday celebrations in your shade. Your leaves became a red-orange-yellow pile for our teenager playing hide-and-seek with our yellow Lab. I’m guessing your sap dripped into buckets in the late winter and early spring and became delicious syrup.
Life so close to the road probably wasn’t easy. Your branches were pruned for wires and traffic. Snow plows scraped your exposed roots. Road salt and asphalt affected your water supply.
I’ve grieved for you since you’ve been gone.
Now when I look up from my desk and out the window, I see your absence. And the absence of White-breasted Nuthatches walking headfirst down your trunk, Hairy Woodpeckers foraging for insects, and all the other life you supported. When I step outside with Asha at night and gaze at the stars and moon, I miss your branches. When I drive up to our house, something looks wrong. When I’m in the yard, I feel more exposed without your sturdy trunk shielding me from the road.
Over the past few years, we noticed you were dying. Fewer leaves grew on your branches and more branches were leafless.
Then, this spring, there were no leaves.
And we knew we could not save you.
On my walks I’ve seen stately old maples decomposing slowly and continuing to support the web of life – fungi and insects, birds and mammals, soil and plants. I’m sorry it didn’t feel possible for that to have been your story too. But you were so close to our house and to the road. And with your death, we didn’t want to risk your large branches falling and causing significant damage.
When men with massive trucks, cranes, chippers and other equipment arrived to take you away, it felt like you died a second death.
I’ve grieved for not watching the men remove you. For not bearing witness to your departure. For not allowing tears to flow without embarrassment or apology.
I’ve grieved for my failure to act on my desire to hold a ceremony to honor you while you were still here. I imagined inviting friends and neighbors to celebrate your long life, to share their stories of significant trees. I considered asking Cora to draw pictures and hang ribbons or a banner with me.
I also imagined something quieter, more private. Like writing you a thank you note. Or whispered words of gratitude and hugs. Probably after dark to alleviate my self-consciousness with your proximity to the road.
So when trucks rolled up unannounced at 6:40 that June morning and one man asked, “Are you happy or mad?” I replied “I’m so very sad. Let me say good-bye.” I wrapped my arms around your sturdy trunk, pressed my cheeks against your creviced bark and whispered, “Thank you.”
While I’m relieved to have said a short, last-minute good-bye, I’m deeply sorry that I didn’t act on the desire for a ceremony as fully as I wanted to.
I could say it’s because I didn’t know what day the men were coming. But the deeper, more complete truth is that I didn’t want to face the fact that you would be cut into pieces and removed. I also felt inhibited by the dominant culture that doesn’t recognize trees as living beings worthy of celebration and ceremony.
So I’m writing you this letter.
I choose to honor you, who have given me beauty and joy and oxygen.
I want you to know that just because I can no longer see you, I haven’t forgotten you.
I will miss watching you through the seasons – noticing your leaves emerging in the spring and raking them up in the fall, seeing your branches laden with summer green and winter white. I will miss the sounds in your canopy, the songs of wind and rain and birds.
I also want you to know that your gifts to me extend beyond your physical presence.
“I can’t talk about it,” I said when my beloved returned home from work that day you were taken away. I didn’t want descriptions of a huge crane lifting your branches into the air to obscure my grief. I still don’t.
Putting my grief into words, into this letter, has given me a chance to reflect and to tend to my heart. To be with grief and loss and befriend them as part of life.
I’ve experienced other losses. Human and more-than-human kin, tangible and intangible. And more lie ahead.
As I walk toward them, I’ll hear you whispering, “Don’t turn away. Listen to your heart. Act on what you hear, even, or especially, if it’s hard.”
With love and gratitude,