This Tree is Life

I’m sitting here under my catalpa tree thinking about a conversation I had with a yoga teacher friend, Sarah, this morning. We talked about how the summer solstice is a happy day for most people; the longest day of the year, the brightest day of the year. But we both agreed that it is also a sad day. Now the days will get shorter. There will be less and less light. It’s right there on the calendar. The big shift has occurred, and things have begun to change.

This catalpa tree changes with the seasons. It is the last to let go of its giant leaves in the fall, and the very last to leaf out in the spring. Its leaves are heart shaped and as big as both of my hands. It flowers in mid June and it sheds its sweet scented popcorn-looking petals right around the solstice. Its long green bean-like things will grow through the summer, then turn brown, dry up, and try to hang on through the winter.

Our catalpa tree has been the backdrop of our lives for 25 years. It’s in nearly every backyard photo we’ve ever taken. It has changed and grown along with our family. Throughout the years its branches have held bird houses, baby swings, tree houses, daydreaming children, drunken friends, yoga swings, and now, birdhouses again.

Before we bought this house, it held another family. The day we met the previous owner, Mrs. Z, she pointed out each and every plant and flower in the yard. When she got to this tree she said,

This is a catalpa tree. It’s an Italian good luck tree. We planted it in 1967. The year my husband died.’

It struck me as quite funny. They got a good luck tree, and then he died? Or did they plant a good luck tree, because he died? Why had she told me both of those things?…I still wonder.

The neighbors we had when we moved in were our wonderful neighbors for fifteen years, Frank and Cheryl. We watched their children grow and spent many days and nights outside with them under the catalpa tree, the tree that Cheryl hated. With a passion. Especially in June when the small flowers would get wet with rain and stick to every single shoe and bare foot. Both of our houses were filled with smushed flowers that had been dragged in.

They moved away, as neighbors do, and I miss them. But I think I miss her the most in late June because that’s when the flowers fall. I know if she were here she would be outside cursing my beloved tree! And I’d be laughing.

The thing about this tree though, is that it was planted in 1967, like me! And I can see it getting older. There are cracks in some of the limbs. There is sawdust indicating some insects are feasting in there. It is leaning more to the left each year, also like me! So while it is beautiful, flowering, sweet smelling, and shade-providing, every time I look at it, I know it is aging by the moment.

I love this tree and it brings me great joy, but I know that someday there will be an empty space where this tree once was. Perhaps one big storm will take it down, or it will simply continue to slowly change and slowly die.

So, while every time I look at this tree I am filled with great joy, I am simultaneously and equally filled with deep sadness.

Everything changes. Everything goes away. Nothing is permanent. Sometimes changes happen little by little, moment by moment, day by day. Sometimes there is a specific date that marks a shift. Sometimes there is one event, one defining moment where everything in your life becomes different.

No matter how it happens, whether or not we mark it, or even feel it, change is happening.

To everything. To everyone. All of the time.


Earworm. Changes by Black Sabbath.


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