The man extends arms outwards and holds his head high to capture sounds and smells as he walks the path next to the thicket. His feet slosh in the runoff of water over the clay soil. Every part of his being feels spring’s return to the Northeast. Embracing his 67th spring, the man has to pause more frequently on his climb, and in pausing, he observes and remembers:
The woman carried the bucket with the bare root seedling trees soaking in water. The man dug holes and placed, somewhat carelessly, a tree in each hole. They did this each spring for more than 30 years. The trees felt the comfort of soil pressing against roots and drank deeply from the nutrient-soaked moisture.
The man and woman watched as the trees grew each spring and summer. Branches soon supported resting birds and eventually nesting birds. Trees were decorated by snow in the winter; they spread their own seeds to the wind, and often sheltered small animals. The man sometimes napped in the shade.
The man and woman cut a tree from its roots and stood it up inside their house. This was their 36th year trimming the tree together. Each ornament held a special memory. Some of the ornaments had hung on trees decorated by preceding generations. Some carried the memories created by the man and woman with their own children. The tree’s branches proudly extended upward, faithful to tradition.
The parents, grandparents, children, aunts and uncles gathered near the tree for Christmas dinner, conversation and to play games. Snow fell lightly outside during dinner. The two-year old, as two-year olds often do, tugged at the ornaments and branches but the tree stood firm.
The man roughly dragged the remains of the tree from the house and shoved it into the thicket at the edge of the woods where it could decompose out of sight of the house. The woman solemnly removed and lovingly packed each ornament from the dead branches that now bent downward, their task completed.
A pregnant mouse rushes to get the fallen dry pine needles into her nest. When the nest is finished, she will give birth to her babies. The needles will make a soft warm bed for her litter in the burrow tucked beneath the trunk of the decaying tree.
A random gust of wind appears between the trees in the woods. Seeds that have been maturing in their pods are suddenly caught up and carried across open spaces. When they fall to the ground, a few, a very few, feel the warmth and moisture. Some of those fortunate enough to find protection from predators begin to send out feelers into the soil on which they rest.
The man resumes his climb. At the crest of the hill he sits on the bench he placed there years ago. From here he sees the forsythia’s golden blossoms near the mailbox. Buds and small leaves are breaking out on the bushes and the hillside beyond the house is giving up its grey tint. The man who has witnessed this recycling of life so many times before bows his head in awe at life stories remembered and, more importantly, at those poised to be born this season.
Writer Al Stumph lives in Chatham and loves nature.