A Tree, Always There
There’s a rest area halfway between my house and my family. The area is arid, almost like a desert, at the edge of the shrub-steppe of the Columbia Basin drainage system. You can see the dirt in the picture, the sparse grass and the beginning of treed areas in the distance.
The tree in that rest area holds importance to me; it’s been there, always, in my journeys from here to there. I look for it every time we pass and most often we stop. We’ve stopped with grandkids and walked among the dried grass along a little trail people walk their dogs. We’ve walked our little white lab there many times. That tree is barely there, yet holding firm and reaching out to the sunlight. I’ve taken over sixty pictures of it. For a look at all my photos about this tree, enjoy my Google Album here: The Tree of Heaven Rest Area Tree. For me, it was a bit of heaven, a respite much needed on my journeys.
In 2005, my son crashed on his motorcycle. I can still hear the words in my phone, “Mom, Jake crashed. He can’t feel his legs.” I left work that day to help Jake begin his journey not walking anymore. I knew he could do it, and he became a man of his own again, a loving father and son and brother until he passed away in 2016.
And every journey in, on this highway, for struggles or celebrations, the little tree was there, a place I looked to for stability, for hope, for the idea that even in adversity, we all can reach inward for strength. Like the tree, like Jake, to survive.
During these times of staying home, we have not travelled that road to our family. We’re staying close to home. But a few weekends ago, we hopped in the car in search of the little tree. I just needed it to still be there, my little tree that holds my secrets and my grief. Just there, being.
In my mind, I remembered the strength of the little, spindly tree. I saw only the clouds stretching across the sky. I cried. I cried a lot; it held my pain and my joy, for my boy.
A WriteOut Prompt
And so for #writeout from the National Writing Project / National Park Service two week celebration of parks and the outdoors, a prompt from the Daily Sparks from Ranger Beth of Longfellow House Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site was to write an ode for something truly amazing or praiseworthy. I’d been singing praises to that tree for its gift to me since– it seems forever. I needed to write this ode.
A Poet on Odes
I searched for support to write an ode, and I liked this one from Simon Mole the best:
An Ode to the Telford Rest Area Tree
- A pause in life’s journey
- The little tree create a place within my soul to hold the hurt.
- Thank you to WriteOut for this peace
An Ode to the Telford Rest Area Tree
Barely there it stood:
A bit scrawny— here a limb, there a limb
yet many small leaves fluttering in the breeze
As if nature planted it just there, on a whim.
A lovely deep green pleasantly inviting all
When the afternoon sun blazes spots
Of heat waves on the concrete parking lot
Brown grass, mowed, baking in the heat: we stop.
Still, the tree reaches out with branches,
stretching out far with its finger tips
To share every bit of shade it possibly can
A welcome respite for the traveler on trips.
The wind whistles through the branches
The leaves flick together releasing wind’s energy
A brown dragonfly’s wings whirl past your ear,
darting along on the waves of wind’s synergy.
Cars murmur briefly, speeding by
A meadow lark song rings crisp near its top
A yellow-bellied marmot chirps his warning
For each traveler’s step on the lot’s grassy plot.
Between the worries of the where I was
and relief of where I’ll be
The little tree and its shade pulls me to calm,
a hug from a friend always there with me:
A warm acceptance of what is,
and a cooling of the grief
With no words, just being there,
A companion of support, giving hope
Standing strong in its own adversity
To say, you too can keep going,
Through the day’s uncertainty.
That first day when heat
our air conditioner overcame
and we stopped, stretching our legs
in a walk for relief to reclaim
Touching the tops of the waving prairie grasses
Amid darting insects beneath the searing sun
Discovering the welcome shade of the little tree
Stretching its shade to shelter all, everyone.
Growing strong in the arid shrub-steppe
Offering its solace to those on its highway
In the middle of a drive from here to there
Its stark silhouette, a welcome: “this way!”
It stood leafless that March amid melting ice,
Stark dark brown trunk against the cold grey sky
Still its limbs reached out, “I’m still here.”
And I wondered, “Are you there, holding the sky?”
And on the tips of the branches, small buds of green
Called, “I’ll be here for you tomorrow, too,
Holding the sky, No, I won’t let it fall; I’ll stand tall”
And I in my sorrow sighed, “I so thank you.”
And now, little tree, you’re cut: just a stump-
Gone from your post, your strength and your hope;
Without the silhouette of that courageous tree,
How many now miss its message to cope?
An emptiness of sorrow surges in my heart
A hole that grows each time the tree I can’t see,
Sealing in the truth of loss that holds my heart
A truth of the grief healed by the sight of that tree.
In my mind I’ll remember the strength of its welcomeSheri Edwards
I’ll maintain the memories, let them mend all that was then
And like the little tree, let the now render tomorrow
Holding the hurt in the grateful space of its remembered, hopeful vision.