Elegy for a Tree

@2012 Beret Olsen
@2012 Beret Olsen

I moved to New York when I graduated from college, and was immediately befriended by someone desperate to convert me. The odd thing was, I enjoyed her company.

I loved going on outings with her, even when she brought her posse of actual converts. We went ice skating; we went to the movies; we discussed being first-year teachers. She had many wise words to share.

She told me that the secret to overall mental health was as follows:

1) regular exercise

2) a relationship with nature

3) a relationship with the spiritual

And, despite her personal beliefs, she left number three for me to define for myself.

Since then, I have moved to the West Coast, but her words still echo in my ears. I was therefore pleased to find my version of a mental health homerun on Mount Davidson. Whenever possible, I would huff to the top and visit what I began to call my tree.

My tree had been dead for a long time, and that made it all the more striking.

©2012 Beret Olsen
©2012 Beret Olsen

Under its branches, my perspective would suddenly change, both literally and figuratively. It was the place to go whenever tired, or frustrated, or stuck, or giddy, or thoughtful, or restless.

It was not uncommon for me to visit that tree two or three times a week, regardless of wind and weather. I would even wander up in the pouring rain, rubber boots sucking at the mud, dragging me into it. On those days, even the dogwalkers left me alone with my tree.

©2012 Beret Olsen
©2012 Beret Olsen

Though a 103-foot cross loomed behind at the very tip top of the mount, my sanctuary stood at the tree, and I loved it there.

So did a particular red-tailed hawk, often spotted clutching a top branch, and eyeing me with the same cool gaze he turned to the rest of the world.

Then…a month or two ago, we had a windstorm that ripped my beloved tree off its feet.

I didn’t know until I reached the top and saw it lying on its side, and I was completely unprepared for the sorrow I felt over a piece of vegetation.

The hawk has moved on, but the tree is still there, lying listless on a dusty patch.

It isn’t the same up there at all.

Published by

Beret Olsen

Writer, photographer, teacher, and part-time insomniac.

8 thoughts on “Elegy for a Tree”

  1. I get it. I’ve got a special rock on the beach. Every year winter surf comes up and closes access to it. Then each Spring it opens up again and I get to revisit. There are always changes in the landscape around it, but the energy of the spot (either inherent, or cultivated by my own time put in there, or both) remains potent for me. Maybe there’s still a magic in your journey to the spot – tree or no tree. Thanks for sharing!


    1. You are right. It’s still a good walk with a great view. I like the idea of your rock reappearing each Spring for you, like a big gray tulip. Thanks for reading.


  2. I had a tree like that on my grandparent’s farm. it was dead, but I found it beautiful. I liked to sit under it and watch the shadows it made and how they moved in the sunlight. I liked how it looked when it had snow or ice encasing it in winter time. My Mon and Aunt sold the farm some years ago. I mourned for access to my tree. I drove by there a few years back. Someone had felled it and there was only a stump left. I felt like an axe had been taken to my soul, so I understand your grief.


    1. Oof. It would be very hard to see the stump. A friend of mine saw a horned owl in my tree the other day, which made me feel a bit better. I shouldn’t give up on it until someone drags it away.


  3. I’ve taken lots of photos of that tree too, none really as nice as yours – but it was such a beautiful and dramatic tree…

    I didn’t know the wind had taken it away.

    Makes me think of Oklahoma and all the sorry brought by wind.


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