December 3, 2011
I turn 60 years old in a couple of weeks. That’s not really a big deal, I’ve got some company. The tree in the photo here (365 Williams St. in Lebanon, Oregon) is also going to turn 60. How do you I know that, you might ask? My father transplanted it and one just like it into the ground on the day I was born. This didn’t really register with me prior to one late summer night back in 1970 when I was walking by the tree with my friend Jerry Gazeley. I was in the midst of telling him about the trees when it dawned on me just how cool a thing to do that was.
Calendars are sort of arbitrary, and a year is a measure of how long it takes our particular rock to orbit the sun. In a flash I understood what my father had done: a real gauge of how far I’d come in life. The tree really put this particular abstraction in to focus for me. It was quite an emotional experience for me, but a comforting one.
Back in the 90’s one of the trees was cut down for reasons unknown to me. That was sort of a blow, but the other one was still there when Google took this photo a couple years ago, as you can see. I haven’t been able to commune with my buddy the tree since 2005. But those of you who live in the area are free to stop by on the 15th and say happy birthday. Just don’t get carried away. “Hey mom, there’s somebody out here pouring a Guinness on our tree!”
UPDATE February 17th, 2013
Today, while looking around on Google Earth, I discovered that it appears the tree is no longer there or cut back to a stump. It would have been where the pink X in the photo below is located. I’m assuming it was removed for similar reasons to the other one; they’re not hard to guess. Williams Street is a truck route, so you’d need to keep it trimmed and eventually it would have grown to the point where the roots would damage the sidewalk or curb. It also looked to be a threat to wires passing through it.
Whatever the reasons, it does sadden me to think neither one of them are there. Looking at the aerial photograph, I also see that the two mature Walnut trees (They were 20 or 30 years older than the house itself, they were already big enough to climb in when I was a kid. I had a tree house in one of them.) in the backyard are also no longer there at all. They had been trimmed back to being shadows of their former selves for a long time; bushes with big trunks.
Thinking through this a little bit, my trees were in the ground long enough to do the job my father intended; which was to give me some real perspective on the passage of time. Being astonished at how large those trees were at the age of 18 made me stop and think about my own mortality: likely the first time. I could remember when they were only a couple of inches around; by the time I moved away in 1964 the trunks were six or seven inches in diameter, and by 1970 they were around a foot. .
Like a lot of things that are no longer there, I will miss being able to see the trees the next time I visit Lebanon. If you move away and leave your childhood home, you tend to think of it as a place like Brigadoon, that never changes. But it’s not really different than if you still live there. We all have the world of our childhood alive in our heads, where the schools, playgrounds, sidewalks vacant lots and other enchanted childhood places still exist if we’re lucky enough to have sweet dreams.
In my case, I can still hear the rustling sounds the leaves made in the gentle late summer breeze while the whirling sprinkler hissed away as it watered the lawn. (While I cooled off running through the sprinkler’s soft spray.) I remember they always reminded me that I was almost home where I returned from trips in the car with my parents and could see them appear through the windshield. They taught me the cycle of life as they miraculously grew a new set of leaves every year and made the front porch a nice place to sit on a warm summer afternoon. I learned to ride a two wheeler in their shade.
But, after all, they really weren’t “my” trees to begin with. We were just fellow passengers on a long journey, who happened get on board at the same time. We shared a number of experiences and it was a pleasure to know them; I learned a lot from them.
I’d like to think my Dad knows just how much———–