I will not abandon certain trees – even when I can do nothing to affect their existence in the world. As if worry is a powerful thing, and not as useless as prayer. As if memory is a formidable thing. Still, I pray in my own way for some trees. Remember them, and fret about them – while tending hands-on to a tree in the yard. I will bring these other trees to mind, invite them to ride along. Maybe they will be entwined in the melody of some song I can’t stop humming. Perhaps, they are beads on a mala, rolled gently between thumb and forefinger inside a quiet breath.
There is an oak my mom planted in the yard of the house where I was raised. (Do you have any idea how slowly oak trees grow in the boreal forests of central Alberta?) I tried to take it with me when I sold the house. Wanted to. But an arborist said moving it would most likely kill it. So I gathered as many acorns as I could find, with the intent of planting them, but these bundles of possible life were lost in the move. I do not see this oak any more. But it was steadfast in the backyard and I did not have a favourite season for it. Except it always surprised me that it was still alive each spring.
An ancient and gnarled Douglas fir in the elk pasture above the town of Banff, makes my list. There is a black-and-white picture of Marilyn Monroe sitting in this pasture that I have grown to love, and when travelling through Banff, it is our ritual to stop there and reflect. To have a swig of whisky from a dented pewter flask. To be grateful for breath in mountains. Or, to hold a baby daughter up to the quivering stars and shout “This is her!” and have a hundred midnight elk we did not know where there – turn their heads simultaneously. Perhaps the daughter doesn’t believe this story. Maybe she does. It is true nonetheless. The Douglas fir in the elk pasture is best in the off-season – spring or fall, when the possibility of being alone is high. But on a hot day in the middle of summer, the scent of her is intoxicating.
The stand of 700-year old Engelmann Spruce at the edge of the Columbia Icefields – stunted and ancient and sacredly resolute, always makes me smile with wonder. They persist with such a short growing season. And really, to call it a season is a terrible misnomer – it is a stingy window of growing. I have sat many a night in the Icefields camp around a fire and looked up toward the dream of the Engelmann Spruce. The Engelmanns are always best in the fall, when you have to bundle up to walk to the toe of the glacier to get a glimpse.
The Aspen at Miette Hot Springs whose shade kept watch over the daughter as she slept in her crib, while her parents drank wine and played backgammon. That tree watched her grow, collected a thousand child-hugs, watched her play, and hobble when her knee was damaged. We called it Mackenzie’s tree because she was connected to it. It grew as she grew. If you go to Miette Hot Springs and find this aspen outside motel unit #35, on its trunk, you will see a small plaque that reads: Mackenzie’s Tree. This is not a statement of ownership. It is a testimony to relationship. I do not know how it got there, but we were not shy about calling it Mackenzie’s tree. Now you know the story of this naming. In truth, we could have called the daughter the Aspen’s child, because she was. The Aspen is always stunning in the fall – with a breathtaking creamy golden-yellow colour.
There are the two Elms in the back yard that never seemed healthy. I put them to ground on a dull grey Saturday morning in July, while gulping a French Pinot Noir, and have watched for three years as they seemed to struggle. They were always late to come into leaf, and early to drop their leaves. They never seemed robust. This spring, they seem to be breathing easily in the sun. Perhaps I needn’t have worried. They’re fine. Do you know that colour of new elm leaves – pale green and bright green at the same time? The backyard elms are best in the spring, when they are filled with hope and energy, and that surreal green.
If all stories are reflections of the various stages of abandonment, I am part of no story. I exist as a non sequitur, outside of all stories, because I will not abandon certain trees – I carry them inside me, which is every bit as useless as a prayer, but still, a necessary thing. These trees are an essential part of me. I will, on some mornings, close my eyes and move from bead to bead on the mala, each stop a tree, each breath, a tree. I will perform the sacraments of memory, of imagining, of hope and worry. And I will believe, perhaps stupidly, that I have in this utterly intangible way, made a difference to certain trees.