Moving, death, and divorce—the stressors of life. No one wants to be told she is not a tree. That she doesn’t grow roots. That she doesn’t speak with other trees, that she doesn’t sing to them. Not after so many Marches and Aprils and Mays. Not after so many birthdays.
I always bragged about loving change. I’d say, “When you stop changing, you’re dead.” I left my first marriage for Thoroughbreds, and ultimately, for another man. We pitched our Winnebago under a Silver Maple on an 83-acre crop farm. We let its noisy screen door slam open and shut—my 8 and 10-year old kids, my lover, his friend Bruce, and I—for one long summer and fall while we built a horse farm around us. Better this sleeper coach than an unhappy marriage. In reality, I was running fast toward a dream. There were always the horses, and the devil on my back.
Thirty-five years after my move to Maryland, and twenty-two since we dug our first fence post, and I found myself in a cabin by the side of a South Carolinian pond, waiting for my lover-now-long-grey husband to join me after finishing out the business of leaving the old farm. We would be moving to smaller pastures. We would try to resurrect our frayed marriage. We would steal back the writing time we had lost while we were so busy fighting life’s little wars.
My wait was about two weeks, during which I relived all twenty-two years at An Otherwise Perfect Farm. So much had happened. So much was gone. My Redmond. Diamond Mesa. Sylvia. Charred Angel. Sunny. The Old Mare. Piper Cub. Beautiful Joe. My parents. My brother. So much had been learned and lost, and held onto.
I searched my photo albums. I beat up my computer. I made middle of the night calls to my son and his wife in California to please help me with my project which was fast disappearing into my frustration. I texted my daughter—What did Brooklyn have over South Carolina?—“Where to begin,” she said.
I rented a tinny piano and made its music do. I pulled out old poems and I wrote new ones. All I could think about was a magnificent and miserable chunk of two and a half decades and a place that I could no longer call home. I cried volumes. I am still crying, because all of it, all of it vanishes into something so beautiful and lonely, as if each tear were haiku on my face. We all have our slideshows to put together, we all have our music and our poems to write, our lives to chronicle and share, our yellow trees to cut down.
“What’s with the yellow tree?” the owner of the cabin asked. She was the first person I dared shared the project with. She is a retired scientist, unaccustomed to the power of metaphor.
Or at least that’s what I told myself. Who wants to cut down a beautiful tree that has died? Why not do something else with it? Why not make it into art?
Everyone commented on our Yellow Tree, but no one understood it, even when we hung Christmas lights from it, and then left them there through the summer months. Even when it started to grow back with its here-and-there tufts of green.
Why not just cut the damn thing down, their confused looks all said. Why not?
Because. Just because.