I just came back from a trip to the Midwest where I visited my 94-year-old father who is slowing down and withdrawing from this world. He’s in a wheelchair after a stroke left him unable to walk and talk, and his life has become restricted to the apartment he shares with my mom and a caregiver. But out of the corner of one window he has a view of tree branches. One is a deciduous, probably a maple, and the other is a blue spruce. Every day he pointed it out to me, as if it were a thing of rare beauty.
Across the creek from my cabin is grove of spruce trees that I like to join—to stand among these tall giants that grow straight up along a rocky cliff (similar to this grove of ponderosas, right, across from the cabin). They form an almost perfect circle, one that invites me to stand tall among them. I get strength and peace just from being among these trees, a few of which are undoubtedly more than 100 years old. Our conversations are silent, but sometimes when I’m full of fears and doubts, I hold my hands against their bark, trying to absorb their strength and solidity—their stoicism in the face of dry, hot summers and long, cold winters.
Several weeks ago, I saw that two of the trees had ribbons around them, and when I looked up at their crowns, I could see that they were dying. But when I came back to the cabin after visiting my parents, I wasn’t prepared for the sight of stacks of lumber: two massive tree trunks cut into small pieces and a pile of smaller branches. And two holes, two empty spaces in the grove where these trees had stood.
I know that gradually, over time, young trees will start filling in the spaces left behind by the missing spruces. In the Midwest, my father will watch as the leaves start to turn on the maple tree and then fall, watch as snow covers the spruce branches. At the same time I’ll look forward to new trees starting to grow in my spruce grove and continue to seek the advice of the ones still standing. More than a thousand miles apart, my father and I will both find comfort in our trees.
But when my father is gone, I can’t imagine how the hole will ever be filled.