My Beloved Ash
Guest Reflection by Julie Bowman
Note: This was written in late September and mentioned in the Eremos poetry retreat, Writing Our Relationship with Trees, by facilitator Cathey Capers on October 17th. We are thrilled to share it with our Eremos community with Julie’s permission.
I woke up this morning with trees on my mind, wondering about the language of trees. A dear friend had shared a writing prompt that inspired her: “I want to learn to speak the language of…”
She chose to write about the eternal sun, and as I considered what language in nature I would like to learn, I was drawn at once to trees. I love learning how trees support each other, send healing chemicals through their root systems to other trees in distress, how they communicate with their offspring. I began imagining my backyard trees having conversations with each other, and with the creatures in and around them.
I pulled myself out of bed, slipped on sandals and a house dress. Coffee in hand, I stepped out into the crisp morning, delighted by the breeze stirring our chimes into song. I walked beneath my beloved ash tree, the centerpiece of our little square of Mother Earth, and wondered what she might be saying. Was she bantering with the lively wind as it twirled her branches in a graceful dance? Was she calling the devoted titmouse couple who perched at her tips before their quick dives to the bird feeder?
Was she chatting with her neighbor trees about the wild squirrel chases that would shortly ensue? Did she chuckle indulgently, having watched generations of arboreal mischief-makers grow up in the high nests of her branches? Maybe she was considering some choice words for the woodpecker who disturbs her peace.
Or whispering an invitation to playful lizards to come explore the crevices of her bark? Perhaps she was singing the praises of the delicate pink clouds in the East, or complimenting the tree across the fence on its lush yellow blossoms.
I never imagined she might be saying goodbye.
At noon, sitting at the kitchen table, I heard a loud crunch. That was it. She was down. My well-loved tree had let go.
Her trunk broke off about 9 feet up, her top 30-plus feet swiftly horizontal, thoughtfully missing the house, fence and shed. She was always a considerate tree.
And now, her gently curved body lies on the ground. Oh, I shall miss her every morning. Who will hold the titmouse couple? The curious chickadee? Who will shade the house? Will the squirrels and cardinals miss her, too? Will their hearts break like mine?
Blessings on you, oh loveliest and most graceful of trees. It was beneath your reaching branches that I recognized this house, this yard, as “home” twenty-four years ago. Thank you for sheltering birds and baby squirrels, shy possums and raucous raccoons. Thank you for holding center at garden parties, for delighting Christmas guests with firefly lights bouncing off your twigs, for letting me get lost in blue sky and green leaves as I lay beneath you. Thank you for your generous shade, and the way you would send moving, dappled light into the sun room to entertain us as we sipped our morning coffee. Thank you for your extraordinary beauty. Thank you for accompanying me through 24 years of living and loving, for creating a place of joy, for comforting me through so many hard goodbyes, for providing solace and serenity. You will be missed, beloved friend.
Julie Bowman – September 28, 2020
Afterword: The morning of her demise, only two birds came to visit the ash, very unusual, but I thought perhaps the wind was dissuading them. Today, the morning after, birds visited in profusion: a family of house finches, a single cardinal, the wren with its impossibly loud series of songs, white-winged doves, a mockingbird nearby, a cluster of sparrows, the woodpecker that sounds like a dog’s squeaky toy, and the reliable pair of titmouse with their fly-buddy, the chickadee. The squirrels came too, scrambling at first, then slowly exploring the broken trunk, the rent and raw wood, stretching and peering about, as if seeking an explanation.
It was comforting to me, this procession of wildlife, this naturally occurring wake. Some seemingly confused, some taking it in stride. Adapting, adjusting, accepting. My feathered and furred companions in grief, sharing our reverence for the beloved ash.