I have watched this tree now for more than half a decade and it only amazes me more each season. Happily I have now placed my writing desk at the window and face it each day. It gives me continuous inspiration or just an interesting place to look. This tree, which seems to be standing against all odds is a focal point for new life around here. Each year quite reliably, different creatures take their places in the tree and begin a new season of aliveness. Although the center is now blackened with rot, it teems with insects that feed on its fermenting flesh and grow healthy. This in turn feeds the three kinds of woodpeckers I have seen. They only come out of hiding when the sun stays in the sky longer, so seeing them is a really good sign after a long hard winter.
There is a nearly indescribable feeling of aliveness to the spring in Canada. The kind if freshness that doesn’t exist in tropical climates where plant life and greenery get a “used up” look from constant exposure to the blazing hot sun. Here, everything gets a period of rest – quiet; a natural downtime. The, when the sun finds its equinox and starts to extend the days you can feel everything around yawning and stretching after the most amazing rejuvenating nap. I love spring. Hope is fresh in the air, like a wonderful perfume you want to just pour all over yourself. Something longed for is being shaken loose and it is a great relief to know it will come finally.
In my world it is that dead tree that I wait for every year. The one that my husband has threatened to cut down now for three years but knows that I would have to chain myself to if he does. I have watched how the dead bark and concave rotted trunk, knotted and blackened with age, changes shapes creating a new story to add-on to every year. In march it begins quickly and continues to erupt all summer in a splendid display of life. It is better than T.V. when you’re sitting on my front porch and it is as reliable as anything can possibly be every year no matter how hard the winter is.
Squirrels live in the hole on the right; the deep one where they can nest their babies safely not needing to risk them falling from a tree in the vapid spring winds. They seem to usually have 2-3 babies. Chipmunks use it as a launching pad to get to the oak tree whose branches are too high for their little legs to reach. Plus with all of our talented mousing cats, no chipmunk wants to find himself on the ground as a moving buffet.
A couple of years ago I noticed that amazingly a brand new tree has somehow managed to grow and entwine itself within the center of the old dead tree, completed embedded, like an arboreal soul-mate I suppose. It seems to be giving it new life, new purpose and a reason to stay standing. A good reminder of the continuity of life for me in any season.
The tree has only three large main branches reaching. One standing straight up from the middle like the upturned face of a norse god. Then two branches that look like arms extending outwards like a scarecrow reaching right and left with fingers outstretched. Chipped white at the edges from the constant chiseling of the woodpeckers that delight in the millions of bugs that have taken refuge in the soft white wood. We think it may have been a maple at one time. On close inspection of the white wood, you can see the artistic impacts that the woodpeckers beaks have made, in shapes of beautiful intricate random mazes and lines all interlaced with the markings of the red ants that like to nest in an orderly and fastidious fashion. It is natural art.
The Blue Jays also come in the early spring eager to take the highest branch position. Perched high atop the rest of the inhabitants of the tree, they are naturally “top-dog” (please excuse the inappropriate metaphor – dogs would fall out of the tree.) In this way, the evil little birds are able to see, pick and choose, plan and connive whatever they would like on their menus for the day. Small birds, sweet little field mice or baby moles are all fodder for their cannibalistic menu. They remind me of our politicians. They are voracious predators and are my least favourite visitors. I call them terrorists of the bird world.
When I was about twelve years old Blue jays gave me my first experience of death. As I rode in a riding lesson in a cold damp arena one spring, two screeching Blue Jays swooped in the big open back door of the arena, causing our horses to stop suddenly and pay attention. I watched helplessly as they flew to a small sparrows nest and landed pecking at the new babies within. I watched the frantic sparrow mother diving in again and again to try to save her babies but was forcefully rebuked by the large beaked bright blue birds. The nest fell to the ground from the roof of the arena and the babies were launched to the soft sandy ground almost featherless and so still. I dismounted and held my breath. I kept expecting them to move. My coach told me that it was better that they were dead – they would not have survived without their mother and she would abandon the nest now that it had been invaded. I never thought about death until this first experience and I don’t think I have really stopped since.
I have a project idea for my dead tree. I always imagined a faerie door in the big rotted knot at the bottom of the stumpy old tree. It is shaped perfectly and would be like a small Hobbit door, with a rounded top and a small window so the light can come in. Faeries don’t like living in the dark all the time, you know. I would paint it green and blue with gold glitter just in case they like that sort of thing. I think making your house hospitable for Faeries to come and protect your children, animals and garden is a very wise idea, don’t you? It wasn’t my idea of course – I am only following the lead of thousands of cultures and centuries of stories and myths that came before even this old tree.
Anyways, what can it hurt?
After all this introspection I notice something amazing and new! Somehow over the winter the bottom of the tree has eroded away into the shape of an angel; her sideways view, looking down almost reverently at the ground, as though blessing it in some way – or maybe pondering it?
If we give something our full attention isn’t that the same thing as blessing it – in a way?
I notice her sweet little wing is perched atop her shoulders like a leaf, and her hands are at her sides, resting peacefully.
I imagine that she is waiting for the time when the squirrels will come to have their babies and the Blue Jays will take their place in the beautiful mess of it all.