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.