My Morning with a Tree

By on Sep 23, 2012 in Essays

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Palo brea tree with inset of hands trimming

A day off from walking, I rise to greet the day and the palo brea tree in the front yard. Do you know this tree? Smooth green bark like a palo verde tree, but instead of needles there are soft little leaves, and when it blooms the yellow flowers run all along the branches. Lovely, and thorns aplenty.

This tree is not yet the lawn-spanning shade canopy I envision it will become in its future, but it’s getting there. It has a big spirit, gently pressing its boundaries and expanding its comfort zone a little more each day. Eager and responsive, it grows a jumble of limbs going this way and that, some hanging down to the ground, obscuring the sculptural beauty beneath the mass.

I love this tree. It was a gift from a friend, and I enjoy it very much. And yet I’m afraid of this tree — the speed with which it grows and the potential of a thorny encounter. I’ve agreed to take care of it and here, neglected for some time, it is a tangle in need of attention.

Another friend’s voice fills my head, “Why don’t you just pay someone to take care of it?” No. It isn’t about the money. It’s about the process, the relationships… with myself, between me and the tree, and with all life.

I take trimmer in hand as the sun breaks over the horizon. I greet the tree. I circle it, taking it in. I ask how it’s been, compliment its vigor, thank it for providing me beauty and the birds a haven from the heat. I’m overwhelmed. Besides honoring the tree, I don’t know where to begin. I have a vision of what I hope to see happen and I know the tree is right there with me —we both want it to fulfill its destiny to reach less fettered to the sky.

What to do? The only choice that seems to make sense now is to start with what’s in front of me. This one little branch — more like an overgrown twig — doesn’t belong… it doesn’t feel right; it isn’t helping. It’s small, but it’s hurting, sapping a trickle of life from the tree. It must go so that others may grow more freely. Little trickles have a way of adding up. Oh, there’s so many! Others must go now; this little branch, then that one. Starting with the small things on the edges, I collect what cuttings I can in my hands then turn to start a stack of cuttings on the driveway.

Turning back to the tree, a new set of choices becomes clear. The path into the tree a bit more open now, I can better see what next needs trimming. The one rule we’ve agreed on — the tree and I — is that anything inclining toward Mother Earth instead of Father Sky must go… we respect and are grateful for being rooted in the earth, and the purpose of that strength is to anchor reaching for the sky. We just need to remove some obstacles. The air still cool, the birds opine as I remodel their home.

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Stephanie deLusé’s writing explores the tensions of influences that exist in and around us. She has work in literary journals such as The Griffin, The MacGuffin, The Legendary, and Emrys, and in academic journals including Family Court Review, Issues in Integrative Studies, and Family Process. On the popular side, she has essays in books like: The Psychology of Survivor, The Psychology of Joss Whedon, and The Psychology of Superheroes. Her first book is forthcoming (Arcadia, 2012). By day, she professes in Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University. Her teaching has won her awards, including “Last Lecture”, and her writing has earned a Pushcart nomination. In life, she finds things to be over-rated, preferring time with loved ones, plants, and non-human animals.

One Comment

  1. I love how you intertwine your human lessons with the plants, a cross between Emerson and Thoreau. It isn’t too heavy and reminds me of the essays of the nature writer Ken Lamberton. I have just finished his book TIME OF GRACE: THOUGHTS ON NATURE, FAMILY, AND THE POLITICS OF CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. His first book WILDERNESS AND RAZOR WIRE, published while Ken was in an Arizona prison, won the John Burroughs Medal for the year’s best nature writing. I’ve met him a couple of times. A wonderful human being.

    Thanks for sharing this lovely writing, Stephanie. I feel lucky to know you.