“The Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.” Psalm 121:5 “The Traveler’s Psalm”
Emerson said, “Friendship is a sheltering tree.” It is also true in reverse. A tree is a sheltering friend. We lost our shading patriarch a week ago in a freak storm that left our neighborhood rocking and reeling in its wake.
With a thud like distant thunder, this majestic eighty-six year-old ponderosa fell, pulled up by the roots. Nobody watched its 90 feet go from standing upright to lying flat on the ground. It toppled while I sat in the living room quilting. The pelting rain and roaring wind drew me to the dining room window, where I beheld our beloved pine on the ground. Then, with a loud crack, a cottonwood snapped and crashed across the already fallen ponderosa. I headed to the basement–hunched under the stair-well to wait out the storm.
Afterwards, I went upstairs to face our new reality. This giant evergreen had stood alone in our back yard when we bought this house in 1985. Its top towered above our rust colored rancher. The house and the tree complemented one another. The breadth of the branches shaded and bedecked all the rooms at the back of our home. Through the years, we watched snow fall and rest on needles and cones. Black cap chickadees hopped as the snow gathered. Between the branches I could see the river running. Our tree brought nature close.
Of all the others that were growing on our land in the late 1970’s, the builders chose that one to remain. It was reminiscent of the elm my husband’s grandfather left when clearing land for crops in Michigan. He called that tree sacred–the one left standing near the fence line. It provided a pleasant place to rest and drink iced coffee during a break.
Our children and grandchildren played on the bench below our ponderosa. In high school our youngest two climbed it. At picnics, baptisms, wedding and anniversary celebrations, lounging friends basked under its broad branches without a thought. It was always there. It would always be there. We thought.
Now it’s gone. Absent. Never coming back. Like our fathers and friends who have gone before us to heaven. The hole mars our lawn. I feel a rocky void. The squirrels hop around the rocky pit and uprooted stump. They seem disoriented. The birds no longer have the branchy oasis on which to alight. They falter in mid-flight. The deer stare at the gaping landscape with tense uncertainty.
A friend said, “Judy, I hate to tell you, but the back of your house looks naked now.” It is, albeit we now have a big sky vantage and an unobstructed view of the river. Stark summer sunlight pours through the windows. At dinnertime we head to the deck but must move our table out of the penetrating heat and into a corner near the door.
My mother, who lives with us, stares at the enormous uprooted stump. She says, “You should be thankful it didn’t fall on the house.” I am. Numerous times a day I sigh with relief, giving thanks to God. Then I grieve again. The tree that had been a friend–upended, felled, dismembered. Chain saws, hand saws, and hatchets removed the branches while pick-up trucks came and went hauling the debris to a burn pile. Carrying off our shade, our sheltering friend.
“Much has been taken, yet much remains,” writes Alfred Lord Tennyson in his poem “Ulysses.” Yes, we have lost an extraordinary tree, but we still have our home intact. The intangible blessings of family and friends remain. In particular, the Lord’s shade is everlasting. His mercy and grace will continue to protect us and give us hope. He is a sheltering Friend above all friends. One that cannot fall. Never fail.
Judy Palpant may be contacted at email@example.com