Falling Trees

The trees around my parents’ house keep falling. First it was the jasmine bush near the driveway. Then an apple tree by my bedroom window. This week it was the plum tree in the backyard that had grown horizontally toward the dining room for the past 31 years.

Without the jasmine, the front of the house looks naked, exposed and enormous. My dad had no idea why it fell. He just woke up one morning and it had toppled. He chopped it up and before he could decide what to replace it with, the new apple tree fell. He had planted that one with my mother. For years, they’d canned plum and apricot jam from our trees out back and were hoping to increase their repertoire.

I didn’t cry over the loss of either of these trees. It’s hard to get attached to a jasmine bush, especially in Terra Linda where they grow unruly before every 10th house, landscaped unattractively into beds of white rocks. Its leaves are sticky. As a child, you cannot climb them.

The apple tree was planted long after I grew up, so again, little attachment.

But the plum tree… that one made me cry. Its green leaves hung over the hot tub for most of my childhood. Once the hot tub was removed, the tree held a white hammock, the hammock I laid in for hours on sunny afternoons after my mom died.

For years, the plum tree defied the odds — growing horizontally, dangerously away from its anchor as it grew more and more lush. My father tied a rope to its trunk and attached it to a stronger tree nearby in hopes of preventing it from falling. But a heavy wind came and with a loud crack, it fell anyway.

I called my sister to tell her the news. She was as upset as I was. “Why do you think the trees keep falling?” I asked.

“Because since mom died, nothing has any roots,” she said.

And she’s right. We are all rootless. Our anchor is gone. And maybe the house and the living things that surround it know, too, and the trees that grew up with our family and were struggling to stay alive no longer had a reason to hold on. They no longer had to look out for us. It made me think of The Giving Tree.

the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak.
“Come, Boy,” she whispered, “come and play.”
“I am too old and sad to play,” said the boy.
“I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?”
“Cut down my trunk and make a boat.” said the tree. “Then you can sail away … and be happy.”
And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away.
And the tree was happy … but not really.

And after a long time the boy came back again.
“I am sorry, Boy,” said the tree, “but I have nothing left to give you, my apples are gone.”

My grandmother on my father’s side had a less romanticized explanation.

“I think the trees were just old.”

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