JEMontclair – The Great Magnolia

2 minute read

At the entrance to our old street the 300 year old Oak still stood sentinel at the intersection of our lane and the main road above the wild stream that we used to jump from one slippery rock to the next – always falling in.

The Great Magnolia, the next tree of note, was at my neighbor’s house down the lane from our second house; the boy I was in love with when I was 12 lived there. In the curved gray arms of this great lady of a tree we, a gang of pool-hopping kids from the neighborhood, used to lounge and talk. Years later, at the end of this street, at the edge of our property, I planted a small Saucer Magnolia for my mother on Mother’s Day. I visited it three years ago; It was my first Mother’s Day without her.

The tall Pine trees I used to climb to the top of to look out over the county I cannot visit anymore; the newest owner of the neighbor’s house ‘through the woods’ – cut down half those woods to have a lawn. Neither can I visit a lovely moss carpeted birch enclave within the other side of the dark woods, because years before we left that neighbor built a house on top of it. This enchanting place exists in my memory, yet it seems I cannot even visit it in my art. Only the tree spirits came to me when I tried to paint that lovely light filled sanctuary of my childhood.

With paint I saved the tree across the street from my home that was marked to be culled. It was a beautiful gray-green/ yellow-ocher peeling-bark Buttonwood tree. There was nothing wrong with the tree save for the owner of the house closest to it. On the morning the town was cutting down the requested trees, I grabbed my paint and mixed colors to match that bark. I painted out the big orange X so the men with the big trucks and chainsaws wouldn’t stop there. It still stands.

This year, and every year I didn’t heed the call to re-pot it, I let a tree die that was mine to care for, in a pot it had outgrown. It was an evergreen, a Blue Spruce. For years I cared for it. I even transplanted it once to a bigger pot. I used to tie red ribbons on it for Christmas. My father, I recall, loved Blue Spruces. We had a big one at our first house. This one never had the opportunity to get big, because I never planted it in the ground. I had the chance. I moved to the woods. I just – didn’t. I was too preoccupied with other holes dug to bury my dead; trying unsuccessfully to fill the holes in my heart – not realizing that planting a tree, or painting one, could do just that.

Instead it’s still in the pot dead. A reminder of my dead father; of intentions not acted on, of inspirations squelched, relationships that didn’t go deep enough to survive – let alone thrive. Tomorrow, I think I will cut it down and plant flowers – even though the vines that have grown over it’s skeleton enjoy the height it gives them. I must learn to forgive myself. I have already learned to forgive others. It seems trees are here to teach us to be who we are, and not who we aren’t; and that what we truly need in life must not be postponed lest we shrivel up and die.