Certain trees carved a niche in my mind, my very soul, it seems, over my lifetime. The big oak beside the house was my dearest tree, but there was a chinaberry tree in our back yard, and I loved to climb that tree, sit among the green leaves in summer and observe birds up close as they flew in and perched near me. I felt invisible, encircled by the branches and hugged by the tree.
When Barry and I married and moved to the farm, the acreage we owned was covered in pines, oaks, persimmon, and lots of other trees that I didn't know by name. We chose our building site although we didn't have the money to build at that time. We placed our temporary mobile home so that a glorious oak tree shaded our front yard. That tree had a huge hollow in the trunk where our first cat had her kittens while we were away. The minute we returned, while we were unpacking our car, mama cat began bringing her five babies to the front door. Once inside she took them to the guest room and deposited them under the bed. And there they stayed until big enough to move on to new homes.
Behind our back yard fence, at the edge of the woods, grew an old oak with long, curving limbs that almost touched the ground. I called it the Disney tree because it reminded me of the animated films with interesting trees.While our house was being built, this area became part of our yard. Barry hung a swing on one of those sturdy limbs.
I spent hours sitting there watching the carpenters grow my dream house. From concrete foundation to the steep roof where my balcony would overlook more trees near and in the distance, where I would paint with north light pouring through ten foot windows. Our house, built with love, developed like a fetus inside me.
Now I live surrounded by dogwood, poplar, pines, oaks, and sourwood--a veritable forest so thick in summer I seldom see the deer trek up and down the ridge. My favorite tree at this mountain house was the old, old dogwood with branches that hung over our deck, where birds rested eye to eye with me. I felt I had come full circle. Just as I had perched high in the chinaberry tree when I was little, I could sit in my rocker wrapped in the leaves and flowers of a tree ageing as I was.
One day a strong wind took off a big limb of the dogwood. I was told the tree was dying and should be cut down. Why would I be reluctant to cut down this tree? I have thirty dogwood trees on this lot. But that tree was special just as the 300 year old tree that grew beside my childhood home. I cried the day it was cut down and every piece destroyed. I miss it still each time I drive up to the place where I grew up. I see the huge emptiness beside the house and I hurt. The empty feeling in my heart reminds me of the family we once were.
I hope you enjoy this poem about the old oak tree beside my childhood home.
By Glenda Beall
Past the cotton fields, the church, and there,
up on the hill, centuries old, the Oak tree
guarded our homestead, a giant sentinel,
stalwart against all forces.
A bolt of lightning cracked her side, melted
the swing chain.
She never wilted.
Dangerous winds ripped her branches,
littered the ground.
She did not fall.
Her massive shape shielded children playing,
provided shade for corn shucking, pea shelling,
cane peeling and watermelon eating.
Under her leafy cover, on summer evenings,
a youth enthralled his rapt young sisters,
telling tales that left them begging, just one more.
Beneath her canopy of branches, a bulldog
birthed six puppies on a warm September night.
The oak spread her limbs across the yard, beside the house,
a mother hen protecting chicks, she welcomed our family home.