I cut down a tree this weekend. I still have a few more to go.
This one, the first tree to go in my yard, was slow. I cut off all the branches I could to reduce the weight. Using bungee cords, I put some pressure on the tree in the direction I wanted it to fall. I cut a notch out of the falling side. With a band saw, I cut and cut, then came the sharp crack and swoosh of the remaining leaves as the tree fell.
Cutting down trees, even to give me more sun and space, makes me a little melancholy. It's a life and a home and a silhouette that will never be again. To counter this twinge, I use as much as I can from the trees I cut. In previous yards, the small branches served as pea sticks for bush beans and flowers that needed support, and the trunks served as firewood. The felled trees supported and warmed. In this yard, I'm saving the long, elegantly shaped trunks with a few branches on them. I'll use them to build trellises for runner beans and sweet peas. This weekend, I spent a lot of time looking at the first trunk I cut, examining how layers of papery bark fit against each other, how the tree's grain twisted gently through its years of growth. All of this carbon coming together in this particular shape, all this energy, it really is a miracle. This trunk will be in my yard for years to come, just in a different function, supporting a different beauty.
In my world, a tree is never simply a tree.
My friend is dying. In the fall of 2015, when what I had previously understood of stability slipped from my feet, in that very same week, she received her diagnosis. We worked together every day through the school year last year, laughing, crying a little in the beginning, but laughing a hell of a lot more, all the way into the summer. She taught me the practical bits of librarianship, the cataloging, the book sources. We decided together the experience we wanted our students to have when they entered the space, and we made big changes to what had previously existed. The library is a happy place we crafted for ourselves and our students. With the joy in work she shared with me and that we kindled together, I know I can continue to make big, positive changes in the library and the school.
This summer, her sickness worsened, and by November this year, she could no longer continue working and had to leave our daily laughter.
She's a physically small person, and each time I see her, she's smaller. Her spirit and humor are as big as ever though, and when I visit her we talk and laugh until she runs out of breath for words. "What's the scoop? What's the news? What's the juice?" she asks when I arrive. So I tell her what's happening with me and we gossip about work, but we also inevitably end up talking about her death, too.
She is looking at her life now, examining how it has turned and branched, her role as mother, wife, sister and daughter, businesswoman, and eventual high school librarian. She's reflective. She's reading a lot. A few weeks ago, when I visited her, she gave me the latest book she had loved reading, Neil Gaiman's Ocean at the End of the Lane, a book about the wonder of childhood, nostalgia, mystery, and celebration of the unknown. I loved reading it, too.
She is teaching me to die gracefully and appreciatively.
She says she hasn't lit the world on fire. I don't agree. I tell her that her daughters are building mighty flames, and dammit, I am, in my own way, too. She held the match for me.