Bay Reflection
For Arbor & Earth Days: Living Trees and Loving Memories
by M.L. Faunce

On a recent morning at an unspeakably early hour, I was awakened by a mournful cry. Only in consciousness did I recognize the voice of a young neighbor calling for her dogs. "Har-ley, Sa-ge" - she stretched the names to an echo, weeping as she called. It was as soulful a cry as ever I'd heard. To all within earshot, in a fog thick and dripping wet, it seemed the darkest spot on earth at that instant. Her beloved pets had run off.

Loss. It's something we can rarely anticipate. Yet when it occurs, it is so profound and holds us in a grip so unforgiving that the very air in our lungs disappears. Life as we know it ceases to exist; all that we know and understand as reality is put on hold.

Occasionally, the episode ends well, as it did for my young neighbor. After hours of searching, with despair and hope rising and falling in turn like a kite on a gusty day, the wayward pups came home. At daybreak, there was immense and uncontained joy as the youngster relayed the news of loss and found across the fence to waking neighbors.

Why in the midst of that slice of life did the Royal Paulownia trees intrude on my thoughts I'm hard pressed to say. Perhaps it was the power of something lost and found, or the reverse - discovery followed by loss.

Here then is the story behind the discovery of the exotic-sounding tree:

Last spring, my brother and I traveled back and forth into town, crossing and recrossing Key Bridge and the Potomac River, a waterway we knew well from our youth in Washington. The urban wilderness of Roosevelt Island became our focus on those trips to Georgetown Hospital's Lombardi Cancer Center. Some of you have made that journey, here and elsewhere too, I know.

Like my young neighbor with the pets, the ups and downs of hope and heart on those trips fell and rose like the river's tide, the emotions seldom in the mid-range. Through it all, my brother's course was the steady one. So powerful is the strength of some cancer patients that I've heard some say it should be bottled.

My brother never seemed to have doubts. He seemed to possess no fear. He met the enemy straight on for what it was.

And so we fixed our sights on another cure - observing the trees in the City of Trees, commenting on the seasonal changes. Trip by trip, buds became blossoms, flowers became bouquets, leaf took shape and life went on.

One tree we puzzled over - it stood out from all the rest - had showy purple bell-shaped clusters that grew upright, becoming profuse on a rangy, immense, otherwise bare tree. My tree book revealed what our experience could not: The Royal Paulownia, the "Empress Tree," native of China and cultivated here. Extremely fast growing.

By the time the flowers on the Empress Tree faded and were replaced by heart-shaped leaves, our trips to Georgetown ended, my brother's course determined. As summer followed spring, our family had time for visits to sit with my brother, under the dappled shade of maple and sweet gum trees at home in Bay country, to reflect on living and loving and God's good trees around us.

This I learned in loss: Humans are never so strong as when faced with a challenge. And that all the days of our lives, trees give strength, shade and sustenance to us, to all things living - and to their memory.

Trees are nature's gift to us. Through the seasons, trees cover us with leafy protection. They offer us the stark truth of all things in winter bare and prove that hope springs eternal with blossoms in spring. They light up our lives with brilliant colors in the fall when memories are most keen.

Plant a tree in love's name for Arbor Day, April 24, or during Earth Week, April 19-26.

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Volume VI Number 15
April 6-22 1998
New Bay Times

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