Eulogy for a willow

It’s been on its way out for years, scattering branches and bark the way an elderly woman might start shedding her possessions.  A decade ago, the tree was sheared nearly in half when a high wind rampaged through the Berkshires, leaving a tangled mass of shattered branches and willow wands on the front lawn.  What remained, looked lopsided and off-balance, an amputee with a phantom limb. We thought of taking the rest of the tree down then, but something in me couldn’t let it go.  Planted when our farmhouse went up almost 100 years ago, the tree seemed the spirit of the place somehow. Hummingbirds built their nests in its branches every summer.  Flying squirrels took up residence in one of its decaying knotholes. But in recent springs, the bright gleam of its thickening wands seemed duller, more a tired yellow than the almost phosphorescent green-gold of its glory days.  And branches kept dropping.  When one large one crashed down within a foot of me in late March, I knew it was time.  Perhaps it was even a sign.  One spirit calling to another to do the brave and difficult thing. We cut it down as low as the chainsaw could go, though its moss-covered roots remain, sunk deep and I hope forever into the greening world.  Here’s a poem that delves far deeper into the subject by the American poet Dorianne Laux who brings humor and humanity to everything she writes:

The Life of Trees

Dorianne Laux

The pines rub their great noise
into the spangled dark, scratch
their itchy boughs against the house,
that moan’s mystery translates roughly
into drudgery of ownership: time
to drag the ladder from the shed,
climb onto the roof with a saw
between my teeth, cut
those suckers down. What’s reality
if not a long exhaustive cringe
from the blade, the teeth. I want to sleep
and dream the life of trees, beings
from the muted world who care
nothing for Money, Politics, Power,
Will or Right, who want little from the night
but a few dead stars going dim, a white owl
lifting from their limbs, who want only
to sink their roots into the wet ground
and terrify the worms or shake
their bleary heads like fashion models
or old hippies. If trees could speak,
they wouldn’t, only hum some low
green note, roll their pinecones
down the empty streets and blame it,
with a shrug, on the cold wind.
During the day they sleep inside
their furry bark, clouds shredding
like ancient lace above their crowns.
Sun. Rain. Snow. Wind. They fear
nothing but the Hurricane, and Fire,
that whipped bully who rises up
and becomes his own dead father.
In the storms the young ones
bend and bend and the old know
they may not make it, go down
with the power lines sparking,
broken at the trunk. They fling
their branches, forked sacrifice
to the beaten earth. They do not pray.
If they make a sound it’s eaten
by the wind. And though the stars
return they do not offer thanks, only
ooze a sticky sap from their roundish
concentric wounds, clap the water
from their needles, straighten their spines
and breathe, and breathe again.


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25 Responses to Eulogy for a willow

  1. Annette Shear says:

    Dear Liza, thank you for this blog…so lovely: photo & poem & your concern for the tree..
    Recently, I found, quite by accident, on YouTube, a short documentary with Judy Dench showing her love of trees…you might enjoy it. Spring is a new beginning, isn’t it?

  2. Bill Loeb says:

    AND even in New Mexico there’s a soul grieving for “our” WILLOW !
    Save the shards for my arrival along about May 6.
    S/About-to-be-your-neighbor-again Bill

  3. Max G says:

    Sad to see her go.

  4. Emily Gyllenhaal says:

    Also, I won’t forget my young ones under this very same willow leaving fairy gardens in the mossy roots…we shed a tear too.

  5. Anders Gyllenhaal says:

    The importance of these old trees for birds is hard to overstate. This willow, which we got to know a little over the years, surely did its part for its many inhabitants.

    • Liza says:

      Yes, and we were worried that the hummingbirds wouldn’t be able to find our place this year without the willow to guide them. They’d lived there in the summer for so long — then a few years ago, when the tree began to fail, they moved to the hemlocks. But the hummingbirds arrived yesterday — so summer begins!

  6. Susan Fisher says:

    Oh, Liza, how awful to have to take down such a magnificent tree. The empty spot must be so sad to see. I understand what made you make the decision, but it must have been so hard nonetheless.

  7. Beverly says:

    Poor old tree. She had a long and storied life!

  8. Kate Gyllenhaal says:

    Ah, the weeping willow so very sad to see her go.
    So many sweet memories of our girls and Jonah and Lu making fairy gardens
    in the deep roots of that old tree. They fully believed the fairies would come…
    I’m certain they did come and still will.

  9. Phyllis says:

    Oooo, so sad to see her go. She will be missed by so many. A lovely tribute. Thanks for sharing this difficult, but necessary choice. Goodbye beautiful willow.

  10. Lori Caristia says:

    On our corner in Brooklyn, our two Linden trees grew seemingly up to the sky. Then one day several years back as I sat in my home office the sky darkened to black and I wondered what could be happening. Some sort of strange eclipse? As I waited for the bell to ring from my next visitor, about 20 minutes passed and I went downstairs to see what may have happened during the darkened day. Upon opening the door, to my amazement, lying on the sidewalk, like a green giant, one of the trees had crashed. From the weather reports, I learned a tornado had passed through our block.

  11. Lori Caristia says:

    Some trees are great friends.

  12. Lorrin Krouss says:

    Thank you for the beautiful tribute to your willow tree. Since I was a child, I believed that trees contain a spirit – perhaps a magical one. May the spirit of your tree soar overhead and yet, remain close.

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