In the almost three years that we have lived in this place, I have very often enjoyed the tree outside. In summer it provides a barrier between apartment buildings, making what could be a very exposed life feel a bit more private. The leaves are plentiful, rich green and glossy, the tree itself somewhat pyramid shaped, with more rounding at the sides each year.
This same tree comes alive with color in the fall, even as the leaves on it die in preparation for winter's sleep, and provides a sumptuous feast of oranges and reds. Even in death, she is magnificent; her colors flaming bright, outlasting with defiance even the staunchest other trees, save the ever-green pines. I mourn the eventual loss of her leaves, my privacy, but not for long! Come Spring she is an early riser, waking with the first thaw and welcoming birds returning from their Southern vacation.
In truth, I am enchanted by trees; always have been. When we lived in Union Valley, I used to sit out in the thick country grass of the back yard, off to the side of our ample deck and gaze across the field at the tree making a lonely island amongst the stubble of last year's crop. That tree was my muse, both for writing and drawing. I would get lost in the details of her leaves and branches, drifting off into introspection or deep thought. The same was true if I needed a break from thought. I could plant myself outside and simple breathe, feeling the breeze I saw rustling through the tree.
Farther back were the trees of my childhood. At age five and six I delighted in the trees of our front yard on Arch Street. The ceder tree smelled of heaven, and was nice and low - a good climber - yet was very sticky. The pine trees, situated close together skirted low enough to the ground to look full, but just enough off of the grass to make a tempting hiding place. The catalpa tree, the master of the yard, stood tall and strong high above us, mocking us with her out-of-reach branches. Oh, how I longed to scale that tree, I should never have come down had I only made it up one time!
Plumb trees along the neighboring yard would drop their fruits in the grass, providing us a sweet warm snack on days momma gave permission to ask the neighbor if they minded us gathering one or two that fell in our grass. The lilac bushes on the other neighboring side made wonderfully scented forts, sweetening many hours of playtime with their yearly purple and white blossoms. Last, the friendliest tree of all, a single tree forked into two sturdy trunks low enough for us to get on with help but high enough to provide the satisfaction of being off the ground.
Cleveland Avenue also had a wealth of trees. The pines there were much, much taller, and could be walked under with ease. Four of them in a row with branches hanging down around the side and back, but not down the middle or on our side... they made a solid wall between ourselves and the neighbors, but were so dense high above that they sheltered amply from the rain. The ground around them was dirt hidden beneath a million dry needles. Across the same yard space (mostly dirt, used for parking) was a towering mulberry tree. I thought I loved that tree, uselessness be hanged, until enough birds splattered purple doo over the cars and on occasion, our clothing.
The trees in the back-back yard behind the long garage also provided some mystery. Over 100 trees of all sizes grew along a fence, shielding us from the public life of the local YMCA beyond, encasing our world in privacy, even as we were unable to play or climb in them. Some of these trees were also home to trumpet vines (for lack of the real term), that produced bright red trumpet-shaped flowers every year. I loved to examine them up close, fingering them carefully and noting how strong the petals were compared to other flowers.
In one portion of the back yard, which extended behind the neighbor's yard, there was a cluster of trees that made a natural fort. Had we better neighbors, we might have played in this very often, but we did not (at least in that home) and ours were prone to leaving pornographic materials, broken beer bottles and cans, and cigarette butts around, so we rarely entered there. There was a time or two after a session of cleaning this mess up that we spent an afternoon playing in it, but the trees were a bit flimsy to hold growing girls for any amount of time. A unique discovery there was a grape vine, and half-grown (and might I add, sour!) grapes on it. I used to imagine that the vine would become stronger and larger and the whole area a private vineyard. That was not to be, however; the vine was smaller each year and eventually dried up altogether.
Both backyards in that home held many other interesting aspects of nature (flowers, fruits and vegetables) as time went on. We planted the very largest garden in the far back, the length and width of a building, and enjoyed many hours back there. That garden was especially fun to be in after my sister purchased an iguana for a pet. He loved to be taken into it on his leash, and we thoroughly enjoyed watching him scale the poles pea plants were growing up along, sampling pea leaves as he went.
Yes, life as an adult is busy and rushed. Yes, there are pains, trials and chaos. These things are natural, even acceptable. At any given time of the day, however, I may but look out my window at the handsome gum tree in my yard to be literally brought back to Earth. God has allowed us brains to develop technology and industrialize our lives, yet He has also grounded our very souls in the nature around us. We are all His creation, and even in an apartment complex in a busy city, a single tree is enough to draw my spirit back towards Him and bring a measure of peace and contentment unavailable anywhere else. I need the trees, even as we all need the sunshine and rain. They are oxygen to my soul.