I just climbed a tree. Not just any tree, but my tree, the ficus I didn’t cut when we bought this house, amost 100 years old. I knew it was wrong to cut them down, even though my good friend called them “weeds.” I knew they were majestic and worth saving and part of the house. We hired a landscaper who gave us the number of an arborist. He came to my house when it was still a construction site (the workmen called it casa del abrol – tree house – because of all the trees.)
“You can’t cut these down,” the arborist raised his arms in a religious kind of way. “They have been here at least 80 years. They wrap around the house.” He revered the trees and pruned them “like lace” allowing the light to filter though, while protecting our privacy. He filled three flat beds with cut branches, but was so subtle with his saw that when Joe came home he said:
“Did he do anything? Did he even cut the trees?”
But upstairs, the house was full of new light.
Now six years later, I climbed one of those trees for the first time. I’d had two martinis and was irritated, (note to self: stick with tequila!) feeling underappreciated after a long day of Nutcracker rehearsals with Tess (and her swarm of 7-8 year old bun heads), a packed Trader Joe’s at 5pm and fixing a four-course meal. When I went for the trees, it wasn’t so much to commune with them – I wanted to get away and didn’t know where to go. So up I went, pulling on one branch, hoisting and climbing, finding myself half way up the tree, level with the second floor. I was so high, I needed to hold on, so I hugged that tree.
Let me tell you, hugging a tree is no joke. I have lived here for 6 years and I’ve never hugged that tree. As soon as my arms wrapped around it, I felt its intense life force, like the tree had been waiting for that moment since the day that I didn’t cut him down. I titled my head back and peered through what looked like millions of shiny green leaves. Each so small and perfect, up they went, hundreds of planes of ficus, dotting the sky like a Serrat. I leaned to one side and through the tiniest gap in the maze of leaves, saw the ancient palm tree swaying high above.
“Get down,” I told myself, even though I was holding on like when I climbed trees as a child. “Get down, Lindsay,” even though I was feeling it from that tree.
“Don’t go,” it was saying to me. Hold on for one more minute – it’s been six years. Six years!” So I stayed up in those branches, straddling one, clutching another, my head back, gazing through the sea of petals to the clawed palm fronds overhead. All I can say, is that if you buy a house with several hundred-year old trees, get to know them.
There was a rare light mist in the air – a heavy ocean fog turned to precipitation. It drizzled on me just enough to make me feel alive. It was wet and cold and refreshing. I rolled my neck around the branch. I thought about the joy of the rain and the life of the tree in the trunk that I held.
When I was a child, in the back room on the 3rd floor of 166 St. John’s, there was a tree outside my window. There are pages of descriptions and poems in my journals about that tree. I would turn out the light on snowy nights and stare at the naked branches with the orange city sky blazing and think: only you know the truth. You see everything. You see all. I am at your mercy. I thought it was a kind tree, watching but not judging. It saw all my bad habits. It saw my parents fighting in that very room, so many years before. Every night when I shut off the lights before bed, I faced that tree – it never made me feel bad. It saw it all and stood by me nonetheless.
Now this ficus sees me. It heard me sing to Tess when she was a baby, still in a crib: “Every little thing, is gonna be all right.” It has heard thousands of pages of children’s books. It has heard me laugh, but also heard me yell. It has seen the mess when, like my own father, I’ve scolded my children: clean up this room. It has seen me cry; my children, too. If it could talk, I’m sure it would have a lot to say. But when I was up in its arms, I was confident that it wouldn’t let me fall.