Post, Climate Change, Sustainability

Mourning Trees

This past Thursday, I cried three times over the death of two peach trees in my parents’ three-acre backyard. Although I don’t live there anymore, these trees had been members of the backyard nature gang for a really long time, and I was hit with a huge wave of sadness when I faced the news of their demise.

I love trees (they play a critical role in the balance of life on Earth and could play a role in climate change action), but this is the first time that I can remember crying over dead ones, so I thought I would try to write about it.

Last summer, I moved back to Western New York from Austin and was going through a really hard life transition, so I spent a lot of time in the backyard. Being surrounded by trees and nature during a time of enormous change was really healing for me. Although I had always loved my parents’ backyard before, it became a really special place after last summer, and whenever I visit, I walk out back to check on the trees and plants.

Unfortunately, the two peach trees had been getting old and starting to rot. They also hadn’t produced fruit in two seasons. I’m not really sure what happened – maybe Western New York isn’t the best place for peaches, maybe they had never been pruned properly, maybe the soil wasn’t right, or maybe they just got old.

So my parents took it upon themselves to cut down the peach trees, dig up their roots, and purchase two new peach trees without telling me (why would they? I don’t live there). If it were me, I would have left the trees alone to continue making leaves, purifying the air, being beautiful, and holding in the soil until they truly died, but it’s not my yard and not my decision.

When my parents nonchalantly told me that they had cut down the peach trees on Wednesday night, I didn’t really react – I sort of blocked out the meaning of the news and how I felt about it. But the next morning, I walked out into the backyard and didn’t even make it halfway there (it’s a big backyard) before I started crying. It felt like I was visiting a grave.

The peach trees are gone.
The peach trees are gone.

So I cried for a while in the backyard. Then I walked around and paid attention to all of the other trees in the yard. Then I walked back into the house, wrote my mom a letter telling her I was sad about the trees, drove back to my apartment, and cried again. An hour or so later, I received an email from my mom explaining just how near death the trees really were and that she was sad, too, and so I cried one more time.

As life would have it, I planted trees in Buffalo with ReTree the District this morning, so I got to participate in an activity that helped balance out my sadness over the loss of the peach trees. The actual experience ended up being too many volunteers and not enough leaders, but I met a few good people and got to dig a hole for one tree, so that’s something.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to say with this post, but I believe that it’s important for me to recognize the depth of my sadness over the loss of two trees that really meant something to me and I can’t get back.

I’m just going to put it out there: I have a strange feeling that trees are the human counterpart of the plant world.

2 thoughts on “Mourning Trees”

  1. This is a touching post. If losing two trees is powerful enough to bring you to tears, think of the power in planting trees which may bring someone to tears in 40-100 years when they die. Lets plant trees!

    1. Thanks Mike, that’s a really good idea. Your comment got me thinking about Carl Sagan’s 1998 book, Billions and Billions. Here is his quote about planting trees:

      “The only method of cooling down the greenhouse effect which seems both safe and reliable is to plant trees. Everyone can plant trees – individuals, nations, industries. But especially, industry. Applied Energy Services in Arlington, Virginia, has built a coal-fired power plant in Connecticut; it is also planting trees in Guatemala that will remove from the Earth’s atmosphere more carbon dioxide than the company’s new facility will inject into the air over its operational lifetime. Shouldn’t lumber companies plant more forests – of the fast growing, leafy variety useful for mitigating the greenhouse effect – than they cut down? What about the coal, oil, natural gas, petroleum, and automobile industries? Shouldn’t every company that puts CO2 into the atmosphere be engaged in removing it as well? Shouldn’t every citizen? What about planting trees at Christmastime? Or birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. Our ancestors came from the trees and we have a natural affinity for them. It is perfectly appropriate for us to plant more.”

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