Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Death of a Loved One

From the "not quite back on the wine trail, yet" dept.

In a world where there are so many tragic events  ̶  from the father who lost his wife and daughter when he was 30 and raised his two sons as a single parent, only to lose a son when he became a grown up, to a young boy who, at 5, lost his father to tribal warfare in Ruanda ̶  what does the loss of one tree matter?

Earlier this month, crisscrossing Texas by car, time and again, I recall the morning I was driving from Dallas to Houston and saw a large, mature oak tree in a field that had toppled over from the rain. I was going 65-70 and as I saw the newly fallen giant, I felt a sharp pain inside. Still green, still hopeful from a Spring filled with energy, this tree wouldn’t see another autumn.

A few weeks later, driving by the same spot, the tree was brown and lifeless now. There was none of that “It‘s still green, it might just be sleeping on its side” pretend one does to internally forestall the inevitable reality of death.

Driving from Houston to Austin, around Bastrop, again the area was lush and verdant from a season of rainfall. A few years earlier, during drought, fires ripped through the area. As a reminder, thousands of charred, stripped poles dotted the landscape. Here, thousands died. And their lifeless trunks stood as their grave markers.

May, in Texas, has vanquished the drought that had loomed over us for several years. That is now the fate of California. And to gauge how bad the drought is, scientists have turned to the trees. Looking at the rings of blue oak trees, going back to the 13th century, and have determined nothing this extreme has been in play, for at least a millennia.

Yes, there are many important, urgent occurrences pushing up against all of us. So, why one tree, why would it impact any one?

I remember when I brought it home from the nursery. I was so proud to have found the little fig tree. It was in a gallon size container. It had only the simplest of markings on it, “Brown Turkey fig.” I had recently moved into our house and the side yard needed a tree. My grandparents in California had this wonderful fig tree in their back yard. I loved figs. It seemed right.

I look out the window where I am writing this and instead of those bright green leaves and the little baby figs that were sprouting out from the branches, not 24 hours ago, now there is nothing but the naked sky. It sickens me to think of how I found my fig tree. I went outside to check on something and noticed the branches were drooping rather low to the ground. We’d just had another torrential downpour, so I thought the branches were heavy with the weight of the water. And then I saw the tree was leaning, rather, propped against the house. I panicked. The tree stood maybe 12-14 feet tall; the double trunks were probably 14-16 inches in circumference. It was a heavy tree. I would not be able to push it back up, prop it with poles, wires and hope. Who knew if we were done with the rains yet?

A month, maybe six weeks, until harvest. Until the time when I would go out and chase away the birds from the sweet fruits. No more. Harvest is cancelled this year. The birds, and the humans, will have to search elsewhere for those wonderful pleasures.

I didn’t think about why my grandparents had a fig tree in their back year in California. They had other fruit and citrus trees back there as well. They ate from their back yard, as we do today in this now barren of fig tree year. I also had to cut down the little fig tree that I planted 6 years ago, a cutting a friend had brought back from Sardegna. Two fig trees lost, in the same month. Devastating, to this one.

Talking to a young man this morning at the local farmer’s market. He could relate. “I recently planted 5 acres with 500 peach trees. We lost 267 of them with the rains. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”

Is it one of insurmountable grief? Of course not. It’s nothing like when my wife died. But it is like the loss of a distant family member, of a pet, of someone you might not have known but who nonetheless was influential in your life, maybe like a President who was gunned down in the streets of Dallas. Maybe yes, maybe no.

The loss is raw and sharp right now. Over time, it will temper and soften. And from the stumps of the two trees, there is hope. Little leaves are sprouting back up. It’s not a total loss. But it’s a painful one in this moment, a tough pill to swallow, like the farmer said. And another lesson in the transitory nature of life in a universe that we have found ourselves immersed in, for the time being.

written and (unfortunately) photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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