Tragedy Strikes as Major Storm Rolls Through

Early this weekend morning, after a night of howling winds and sheets of rain, I exited the house to take David to an appointment. I had just stepped outside the garage to make the walk downhill to open the first of our two gates. I peered left to see my beloved, favorite elder tree, as I often do, when I froze in horror. A scream welled from deep inside me… “No! Oh no, no, no!”

David emerged from the car not sure what was happening as I ran toward my best friend these last 20 years. Screaming as I ran, I flung myself into what was now a broken pile of branches, leaves and dismembered trunk heaped onto the ground – only a craggy stump remained upright. My arms embraced the now horizontal trunk of the most beautiful tree that ever lived, and I sobbed into her. I sobbed telling her how much I loved her, how much I appreciated her and how sorry I was that I could not help her survive longer, help her thrive in a changing climate. Her tired, 200+ year old body, now a collection of parts, trunk stretched across the earth that birthed her when my Miwuk and Yokut cousins still walked free upon the land. Tortuous branches, so large but delicate, twisted up, one upon the other now – instead of stretched like 20 Bali dancers making their flourishes, arms gracefully moved around, spiraling, curving, wrists turned just so. A million leaves scattered on the ground, some still clinging to the fingers that nurtured them, blowing with the gusts of wind, tempered but insistent that the job be done to separate leaf from branch and branch from trunk and trunk from root – a cycle inescapable as much as I wished it not to be…at least for her.

I don’t know how long I was there embracing her, my face buried into her fallen trunk, bark in my hair, on my skin and sweater, tears and mucus running from my face onto her body, the smell of wet wood, distinctly oak. I had not cried this fully, this deeply since I lost my mother – another entity deeply rooted in the land and in my life that fell too early. How long was I there before a hand came around my still heaving shoulders, body quivering from the effort to manifest sadness, David saying, “I am so sorry”?

David was not sure if he should cancel or continue the day, but we had to continue. Life continues. She will continue – as mulch, habitat and who knows what else – as her pieces become smaller and smaller, giving their remaining gifts back to the soil.

As the next morning begins, I have never dreaded the light so much. To see her again spread across the hill is almost unbearable. Perhaps there is more I can do for her, some ritual or ceremony, some way to memorialize her as she was. Ah- I will plant the acorns today. In three generations, her progeny will soar towards the sky for another to love her as I have and marvel at the magnificence.