Saturday, February 20, 2016

Life's Changing Cycles ~ Nothing Stays the Same

As I watched tree experts take down the towering maple in our backyard one winter morning, it felt like an old friend had died. This particular tree was a big selling point when my husband and I purchased our home in the summer of 1989. There was something comforting about its solid structure and rich, green foliage.

From the beginning, the maple shielded us from summer’s blistering heat and thrilled us with show-stopping leaves in the fall. Beneath its outstretched arms, we came together for family photographs and weekend activities.

And it was at the foot of the maple that I witnessed the brevity of childhood’s season. My daughter turned three the week we moved here. I remember how she used to peddle back and forth across the deck on her tricycle, covered by the maple's shade, her chestnut hair flying in the breeze.

For her birthday one year, we had a treehouse built in the tree. Anna was in heaven and spent many afternoons perched high above the ground, held safely by the maple’s strong branches.

As my daughter matured beneath the tree, so did the tree. The maple withstood hurricane winds and torrential rains, freaky ice storms, and weeks of drought. No matter what the seasons offered, it endured.

Ironically, the tree’s first real sign of trouble came the same year my daughter announced she was moving into an apartment with a friend from church, shortly after graduating from high school—a decision that troubled me and her father, but there was no talking her out of it.

Shortly after her big news, I walked outside one morning and found the maple surrounded by broken limbs. On closer inspection, I saw the limbs were dotted with tiny black holes.

Every few weeks, the same thing occurred. I’d walk outside and find more branches on the ground. Still, I resisted calling for help. I had faith the tree would recover. We’d been through so much already. Thinking of the coming winter, I scooped up the dead limbs and took them to the woodshed. They’d make great kindling.

September came, and we helped Anna get settled into her new place. I missed her something fierce, and worried even more. Our empty nest was so quiet.

One evening I stepped out back to enjoy the sunset and noticed the same mysterious dark holes, now covering the maple’s trunk. They were everywhere! In some places, the bark had peeled away in large chunks, leaving an ugly wound. I felt sick.

Half-joking, I wondered if the tree was reacting to Anna’s sudden absence. Part of her daily routine had included walking circles around the backyard every evening, while talking to her friends on the phone. Maybe the maple missed hearing her voice, as I did.

The next morning, I called a tree expert. She walked around the maple, clucked her tongue a lot, then delivered the bad news. Some trees, she said, aren’t worth saving. They live a full life, but they don’t last forever. In her opinion, this one was finished. The cost to save it would be better spent putting it out of its misery and planting a new one.

With a heavy heart, I shared the news with my husband. We agreed to have it done after the first of the year.

And that is how I came to be standing at the window one winter morning, watching the intriguing process of taking down a 40-foot tree, using a couple of men, a rope and a chainsaw.

In a few hours, it was over. My beloved tree, reduced to logs, twigs, and sawdust. The sky looked so barren.

Afterward, I avoided the backyard. Its emptiness was a stark reminder of my own empty nest. But one cold evening my daughter called to say she was coming to spend the night, and could I please build a fire.

More than happy to comply, I walked out to collect some wood and happened to look up. Precisely where the branches of the maple used to sway back and forth was what must have been a million stars, twinkling against a black velvet sky. That’s when I began to make peace with my loss. The maple tree was gone, but I could replant. In the meantime, I had stars!

Later, as Anna and I sat by the fire, warmed by the maple’s remains, we recounted the past and anticipated the future. She seemed so grown up. I felt better than I had in months. As we talked, I thought about the seasons of our lives. Nothing stays the same. We are always in change.

“I still miss my tree,” I said, looking sadly out the window.

“I know. I do, too,” she said. Then she smiled and pointed to the fire. “But—it’s still here,” she said, reassuringly. “See?”

She was right, of course.

At least for the night.


This essay first appeared in The Dallas Morning News. All rights reserved.

Linking up with Tell Me A True Story.


  1. Beautiful.
    There is something especially painful about losing a tree - it has happened to us too. The view of the stars and the heat of the fire were some compensation though.

  2. I don't like losing trees either. You remember the big old oak tree in the yard where I grew up. We played under that tree, swung on the tree swing and loved it. Ice destroyed that tree about 10 years ago. Memories remain; fond memories. The tree may be gone, but another has been planted. Losing the tree doesn't take away memories!

  3. Such a beautiful metaphorical story. It was so touching. It should be published in a magazine. xoxo Su

  4. Beautiful.
    Thank you, my friend...
    I am entering a new season with my Madison, as she goes into the world to find her own dream to live.
    These words comforted me and reminded me that life does have times of change.
    And change can bring peace, if we let it.
    Have a cozy weekend. : )

  5. One thing in life is change and that I have never liked. Maybe because when I was young we moved so many times. I counted that before I got married I lived in 14 different houses. In fact every house that I lived in has been torn down to make way for parking lots or new buildings. I do have alot of good memories with the three homes that Hubby and I have lived with our kids. It is nice to have those memories.

  6. It's good this isn't in audio, for I'd have a difficult time speaking around this lump in my throat!
    Tho' I've no personal sense of loss and outrage like son and DIL ... and much of Alabama, this reminded me of the poisoning of the trees at Toomer's Corner a few years ago.

  7. The electric company came and destroyed two trees in my front garden early this winter and I was raging!!! They were trimming back from the wires....which I get....but they completely topped off two gorgeous evergreens that blocked my house from my neighbors. No more! So sad. I hate losing a tree....have you considered what you might plant now? Beautiful post, very moving. Your writing is just musical!

  8. This is a wonderful story! It reminds me of The Giving Tree!

  9. Beautiful, Dayle. It upsets me so to lose trees. We bought our house because there was a huge wooded area behind us. Now, five huge houses stand where those trees were. We've got several huge trees on our property - I'd be devastated as you were to lose any of them.

  10. Thank you, sweet friends, for your kind words. You're all just too sweet.

  11. I love this, Dayle. It's so hard to lose trees, especially the ones with so many memories wrapped up in the branches and foliage. When the people who own the land around my parents' place sold the wood to a timber company, we cried. Seriously, some of the trees were so large two (or three) people couldn't put their arms around them. Now we are a few years from that traumatic time. We still miss the trees, but the wildlife loves the new, green, stubby trees filling in the barrenness.

  12. Oh Dayle, that was a beautiful column. You know what? The neighbor had two gorgeous pine trees chopped down so she could have more light in her backyard. Those pine trees houses legions of birds and overlooked our backyard. I wept when they were being cruelly cut down. Still, the empty space in our backyard pains my heart. But now I must go out at night and see the stars, like you did! You are so right. Nothing stays the same----ever. Thank you for your most eloquent and heart-touching words. Susan

  13. Aww... My heart is always warmed by your perspective. I love trees though some folk take them out as soon as they are able. We gather, along with our grand children, the twigs and smaller branches that fall from our trees and use them for kindling in our wood burning stove each year.

  14. This is a lovely story. I remember having to cut down a perfectly healthy tree because our neighbor wouldn't stop complaining about the roots. Seeing that she had a point, we paid to have the roots cut in all the places where they were growing under her planting bed. It wasn't good enough. Though no more damage was being done, she insisted on us cutting it down or she would start formal complaints. I cried the day it happened. So, I totally understand what you're talking about here.

    I love the idea of the old maple becoming a source of warmth, though. Yes, sometimes God removes things in our lives, and we experience a season of loss. But, He always finds a way to warm our hearts with His presence...


  15. What a beautiful story of a beloved tree. Our area has oak trees which tend to be fragile at times. We had two fall during different storms and block our driveway. I am glad your daughter was able to be warmed by your tree's branches in the fireplace. A sweet story shared here at Tell me a Story.


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