You were your mother's last effort,
Sustaining life when she faced death.
Your mother was old,
Old and strong and beautiful.
I wish you could have seen her
In her springtime glory
Before that winter day
When ice came raining down.
Her branches bent and broke,
But I think she could have
Remained and recovered
As her sisters did
(Look! You can see them now
Flanking that empty spot.)
If it weren't for the patch
Of bad ground where she stood.
The earth around your mother
Was too weak to hold her up.
Her roots lost their grip, and she fell.
She fell, but did not die, not yet.
When she saw death coming,
Your mother sent up shoots
Sprouting by the dozens.
Most were little things,
Hardly more than weeds.
But you were her best effort.
She reached out and placed you
Distant, far away from
The bad ground that sealed her fate.
She passed on to you
Her strength and tenacity.
I saw her in you from the beginning,
And let you grow where you sprang up,
Wild at first, spindly and untamed.
I hoped you might grow into
My memory of your mother's beauty.
So I trimmed your branches
And shaped you with care.
No longer just a shoot,
You've become a tree,
One which I hope will grow tall
And spread its branches wide
And bloom in springtime to remind me
That even death is not the end.
PostscriptThis poem was inspired by a comment my friend Susanna (yes, we have the same name) made. She is a landscape designer and knows more about how to grow and nurture plants than I ever will. I posted a video of my husband cutting down a tree in our yard on Facebook, and she asked why we cut it down, since it made her "sad to see trees go down without good cause."
Her comment made me pause and think about how differently I view trees here in South Carolina than when I lived in California. There, trees are the majestic giants of the landscape. Each tree, whether pine or oak, birch or redwood, has its own space. In California gardens, trees generally don't grow unless you specifically plant them there. When Susanna redesigns someone's garden, she takes existing trees into account and designs around them.
In South Carolina, trees grow like weeds, literally. When I weed a flowerbed, I pull up handfuls of pine and cherry laurel and oak tree sprouts (Oak are the worst! Their roots are so stubborn.). Any empty lot will become a forest if you just leave it alone for a couple of years. When developers build houses around here, they often clear out all the trees on a lot before building. After all, you can easily grow more trees after the house is built. The tree that we cut down in our yard wasn't aesthetically pleasing and had been damaged by an ice storm. I thought of it as sort of a giant weed, to be honest. My friend's comment made me think about the prevailing attitude where I live now, that trees are so common and easy to grow we don't value them much.
There was another tree knocked down by the ice storm, a beautiful flowering pear, the middle one of three that lined our driveway. After the storm, we cut it down to the stump, since stumps are difficult to remove. Remarkably, the stump continued to send out shoots, as if it were desperate to continue its life even though the main body of the tree was gone. Most of those shoots we cut down. But one grew big enough that it would've been too much trouble to remove it. I began to wonder how big it could get, and whether or not it would be able to become a tree in its own right. I liked the idea of the old pear tree leaving behind a "daughter" tree to remember her by.
All these thoughts inspired me to write the poem above. Common or not, each tree is a little miracle of nature, designed to grow and thrive in all sorts of adverse circumstances.