For fourteen days we went about our lives without heat or electricity in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. Family, friends, and our trusted Grundig radio kept us informed about the nightmares unfolding outside the fragile doors of our world. The reports that we heard about loss of life, homes, and hope were heartbreaking and difficult to absorb. Devastation rushed in and out, and the void was filled with a sense of helplessness and despair. However, it was only during my first walk through the surreal landscape of my neighborhood that my soul fully comprehended the unbridled reality of this disaster. In my tiny corner of the world, in a suburb on Long Island, the palpable experience…the sense of grief that I felt, rose from the sights of the giant fallen heroes, the innocent casualties, the towering canopies of beauty that once lined our streets… the trees. No street was exempt. Great, centenarian skyscrapers, once imbued with the love of life, cradles for life, animated by the sweet lure of the four seasons, now lay silent, stripped of their glorious design. Like a thousand Goliaths slain by David, the trees were gone in an instant. “Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age should burn and rave at close of day,” wrote Dylan Thomas.
In the end, the punishing winds were too great. Broken by betraying forces, they fell, one by one. Their massive, naked root structure, once hidden, protected, and nourished by the deep, dark, good earth, was now exposed for all to see and accentuated their finality. Oh yes, and processions of people from out of town came to see the trees, recording the ruins with cell phones, snapping photos of kids posed atop fallen tree trunks riddled with time’s deep, well-worn wrinkles, as if the trees were a mere curiosity….and my heart cried, “Stop!” Those who had lived here for many years stood in reverence and disbelief. We recognized in each other our shared grief as we exchanged glances of sadness. I thought of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
For those of us who dwelled among these natural companions and who once basked in the trees’ generous milieu, the loss of the trees was felt in a deeply personal way. I reveled in bittersweet memories of my love affair with the trees, recalling moments of wonder in their endless offerings and sacred mystery. There was the heralding of springtime, proclaimed by a million whispering buds, bursting with life’s potential, and outstretched branches poised for the return of winged guests and their performance of spring’s first hymns; a ceiling of shade in summer, infiltrated by flashes of sunbeams, and streams of sun-falls cascading down in dances through the shadows; autumn’s palette of deep buttery yellows and sunburst reds, drenching every leaf in splendor as they gaily twirled to the rhythms of time, before fulfilling their final destiny. Even in the dead of winter, the trees were vibrant with life, fashioning a canvas for nature’s masterpieces, where intricate snowflakes fell with secret intentions, designing perfect creations upon willing boughs. The trees knew no boundaries to the seasons of giving. The essence of giving ran through their veins with wild abandon and they could not help but share their gifts with us.
Those of us who dwelled among the trees witnessed the unfolding cycles of their divine adventure. We were blessed to perceive their inner beauty and we resonated with the pulse of their wild spirit. And now we mourn their absence with every remembrance.