Life crawls upward and weeps into the light through one small pore even while bursting through the hard wood of the bark in another place.
Late last summer we cut down three pine trees in the yard – two massive old patients under hospice care, the third a much younger but precarious leaner. After the series of ice and wind storms this past autumn, winter, and spring it appears a wise decision. In November we planted two river birch and a rosebud to take their places.
One of the river birch could hardly wait to explode with perfectly shaped tiny green leaves and did so overnight early this season. The redbud also came out ready to play, tiny vibrant red blooms fighting for light alongside green leaves yawning into the spring sun. I have been going out each morning and evening to look closely at life unfolding along bark pathways, almost like an expectant grandparent pacing for the call while his or her child is in labor.
The other river birch has provoked my worry and evoked more than one prayer. As river birch do, it has multiple branches poking up from the ground. There are five thin round columns of wood branching outward, and smaller bark wires springing forth from those. One of the five core branches sprouted buds immediately when winter abruptly opened the door to spring. But the other four remain December bare.
Slowly, painfully slow it has seemed to me, small brown nubs are appearing one at a time along some of the smaller naked branches. Nymphs of green eventually wiggle out. Not all at once as its gregarious sibling did, but oh so gradually. Even now half the tree remains in the buff.
Each day a few more buds appear but at such a snail’s pace I could keep count if I was even more obsessive. All I can do is urge the life forward, welcoming and cajoling it upward and outward. I realize of course, I am impotent and irrelevant to the process other than slaking its thirst. Still I coo and whisper sweet nothings to its limbs.
Two arborvitaes planted on either side of the newly installed gate at the Washington Street cemetery, have died over the winter. We also planted two arborvitaes in our yard and watching the decline of those planted by the city has caused me to worry about mine. The anxiety is pretty silly, given that I have so little control or input. Besides, life is voracious for life. I dug up a slew of peonies last fall when we took out some overgrown shrubs, hurriedly transplanted them in a cold rain without knowing what I was doing, and bang, they are coming on strong.
There is a wonderful poem by Mary Oliver, entitled “Hurricane,” that artfully observes the stubborn persistence of life renewing itself even after the harshest of storms. She wrote it in the aftermath of her long-time partner’s death. The life force that brings the world to green again each spring, and the human urge toward recovery and hope, share parallel trajectories. Perhaps, they also share the same power greater than themselves.