If Trees Could Live Forever

dying plantI think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks to God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

I’ve been blue for several days. Not depressed or morose, just indeterminately down. Nothing bad has happened to me personally — although, of course, every day brings fresh news of badness happening to millions of others close and far. By most measures of mental and physical health, I’m fine. So what’s the problem?magnificent ficus

From my office window, the room where I write my books (and these daily Thoughts), I have a splendid view of the gardens in the back yard. Through a floor-to-ceiling window I can see bougainvillea, jasmine, lavender, citronella, geraniums, roses, begonias, and all the birds and squirrels and insects that cavort among them. And I can see trees! Mandarin, Blood and Washington Orange; Lemon; Nectarine; Plum; Banana; Magnolia; and the quintessence of Southern California, Date Palms, whose towering skinniness topped with a tuft of foliage suggests to me the unlikely marriage between a Giacometti sculpture and a Dr. Suess drawing. The largest tree on my property is a Sycamore, a big, robust fellow with his arms outstretched, beckoning me to climb, to build a fort, to bask beneath. The second biggest tree in the back is a ficus, which has grown as tall as the power wires that serve as the squirrel’s safe passage over my dog-filled lawn.

The ficus is dying. It may already be dead. According to my gardener Doroteo, some kind of pernicious fungus or parasite got into the roots and effectively strangled the tree, robbing it of the earth’s nutrients. We tried giving it medicine — poison, actually, meant to slay the intruders — but that didn’t work. So now there’s nothing to be done but watch this once majestic living thing lose its leaves, become brown and brittle, and stop reaching for the sky.

Before-I-Die-07-wall-angled-200x200I know the wise thing to do would be to have the tree removed, the soil cleansed, and the lacuna filled with a baby ficus. In two or three years, with the right mix of sun and water, it will grow tall and strong, and the ugly hole in the fence line will be occupied by another green leafy goddess.

But I’m waiting. I’m hoping that my beloved ficus, the second biggest tree in my garden, will come back to life. I don’t want it to go.

Recently, one of my dearest friends lost his Mom to a long illness. My father’s health isn’t good. My mom has aged noticeably in the past five years. I, not yet 40, am feeling the first twinges of what might be arthritis, seeing the first discolorations that could be skin cancer, squeezing the repositories of fat where once I had only lean muscle.

My dog will be 11 in a couple of weeks. She sleeps most of the day.

My baby brother – my little skinny cute mop-headed brother – has three children and a business empire.

My best friend since age seven is losing his hair.

How I wish we all could live forever, that we could go on and on, spreading our arms in welcome, turning our face to the sun. How I wish my tree, my beautiful and noble tree, could overcome the bounds of mortality, showing me every morning as I gaze out my office window that Life courses through Earth’s sweet flowing breast, and that the ineffably lovely things that God makes are in fact more durable — more immortal — than a poem.

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