Last week, a freak weather system brought the strongest winds that our area has seen in a long time. This mighty wind took something from us. It blew in with a force that wasn’t taking no for an answer, and took down our oldest, tallest, and biggest Spruce tree. I can’t describe what a shock it was to see it gone from the horizon of our yard. This tree was special. It was on land that was one of the original homesteads in the area. It was around 100 years old and 95 feet tall. It was one of the oldest, and possibly THE oldest tree in our little town. It was a fixture of our property, a home to the birds and squirrels, and something I stared up at too many times to count.
I guess I’ve always gotten a little attached to the trees around me. When I was a kid, my family owned 40 acres in Mid-Western Colorado. It was all natural, the only structure being the footprint of an old cabin, and a caved in wooden entrance to an old mine. It was beautiful land and we had so many family camping trips and picnics there over the years. There was evidence that a stream used to run through it, because there was a long ravine running through the property, a small trickle of a stream during wet years, and the location of the mine was right next to all this. But what was really striking about this particular area was the huge Spruce that was perched on the edge of the ravine. It was a blue Spruce, tall, straight and majestic, much like the one in our yard. However, the tree was right on the edge of the ravine and the dirt was eroding away, and about one quarter of the root system was exposed, with the trunk of the tree just barely on the edge of the ravine.
So if you came at it from below, in the ravine, you could sort of climb up underneath the tree. You could literally climb up the roots (one even bent at a 90 degree angle and made for a step) to the base. Then you got to the edge of the ravine, and the flat shelf above it was completely enclosed all around by the low, wide branches. You could hoist yourself up on the ledge and now be under the tree on flat ground. And the area around the base of the tree was all clear except for a thick cushion of needles. So a child could fit under there and move around and play, and not be seen at all from the outside, since the thick branches brushed the ground. (Is this making any sense? Hard to describe) OR, if you came at it from above, up on the flat ground, you could walk up to one side of the tree where the branches didn’t quite touch the ground and formed a natural part, and you could duck down, crawl in, and gain entrance to the secret area under the tree.
As a kid, this was a wonderful place for me. Especially as an only child who had to entertain herself. And I would for hours, making up scenarios, talking to imaginary animals, and taking special things in there with me that I would leave for the next visit. My parents and I worried that it would fall. Each time we came back, I would strain my neck to see out the car window as we came over the hill, but that big tree always stood. I worried so much about it falling that I developed this ritual that only a child would execute. Within the mine tailings was lots of mica – Fool’s Gold. You could scoop up a handful and sift the dirt through your fingers and the tiny flakes would sparkle in the sun. I thought this was gold for sure. I figured gold must have some sort of magic properties, and that it could surely help the old tree stay strong. So I would cross the ravine to the mine tailings, gather two handfuls of tailings and cross back to the underneath of the tree, and carefully sprinkle the dirt and gold dust on the exposed roots of the tree. I remember doing this many, many times one summer each time we visited.
My family eventually sold the land, and the tree never fell while we were there. And at least in my mind, it never will. So when I’m sad about losing our current tree, I’ll think about how my relationship with trees started and try to remember that Mother Nature says when it’s time to go.