The soaring heights, elegant arches, and vast open spaces of Gothic cathedrals invite awe. As a college student studying abroad three decades ago, I wandered several times through Notre Dame in Paris, gazing upward and all around, amazed at the feats of engineering that produced such a worship space. Now once again my face is tilted up in wonder, but this time at the marvels of Earth. I slide the glass door that opens from the family room to the deck and step into a natural cathedral created by the trees.
Three bald cypress trees, stately and graceful, stand to the right along the property line. Unusual among conifers, this species drops its needles in the fall. Their trunks are thick to support heights of 60 or more feet, but their thin needles dangling lightly from the branches make me think of a watercolor painting, as if they’ve been gently dabbed into the sky above with a thin paintbrush.
Closer in, also to the right, the venerable gingko lends a distinctive note with its fan-shaped leaves and ancient roots. More than 200 million years old, it’s considered a living fossil and has no close relatives among other species of trees. It tends to drop its leaves all at once in a
phenomenon called “gingko rain.” I was greatly blessed to witness this relinquishing last November, and “the beauty of letting go” arose in my thoughts at the sight. Released from the branch at just the right moment, the leaves soar gracefully in the breeze, land softly. This image called to mind the final scene in Charlotte’s Web, when the baby spiders take off from the barn yard leaving Wilbur bereft. One spider explains, “We’re leaving here on the warm updraft. This is our moment for setting forth.”
The enormous elm looms straight ahead right next to the deck, so close that its trunk, nearly 8 feet in diameter, dominates the view. Just taller than the cypress in height, the elm’s wide leaf canopy shelters us in delightful shade. As a mature American elm, its very existence is exceptional, having escaped the plague which wiped out most of its relatives in the mid-twentieth century. In contrast to the gingko, this immense tree suggests the gift of stability, of being deeply rooted. To sit in its presence is like visiting a wise elder, where you feel safe, loved, held.
Lest we become too lost in contemplation, three oak trees to the left of the deck contribute a lively spark to our backyard sanctuary. Throughout much of the year, squirrels skitter up and down the trunks and leap from branch to branch. Certain autumns – like this one — the intermittent pounding of acorns on the roof catches our attention at all hours, at times startling in volume. Wisely, oaks periodically put out a large quantity of acorns, to saturate the area with an amount beyond what can be consumed by deer, mice, squirrels and other animals, to maximize the chances for new seedlings to take root.
We looked at this house for the first time twelve years ago in early February when the ground was completely snow-covered, but still the trees drew us immediately. I love this arboreal community!