A few months back, I got to visit one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen — Muir Woods — home to mighty redwoods for who knows how many centuries. Staring up at these trees, I could not comprehend what it meant that many of them had already been standing tall for over five hundred years in one place, growing ring by ring, year by year. And all this before any of us had ever even arrived on the planet.
I keep returning to photos of these venerable trees, at time when my life feels in flux. As I fret about what I’m doing with my life, wonder if I’ll ever find another job that fits, wonder if I’m frittering away my existence while I do things like paint the basement of our old house — as my husband and I try to figure out where we fit in this town, and as celebrations of birthdays and weddings and the grieving of passing life happen in discomforting proximity, in all these things – all my flux – there’s the reminder of trees.
Trees have always been an object lesson for me. Oak trees in particular – symbols of strength and stability, and a refuge for all kinds of creatures – I pass hundreds of them in a given day, standing as they have through so many seasons. And for me that’s the thing that is hard to relate to, the standing in one place aspect of trees.
If you’ve ever moved to a new town, I imagine the concept of being “uprooted” has crossed your mind in the process, maybe an image of a tree with a burlap ball keeping its roots contained during transport to a new home. It takes time to sink in to new soil, no matter how seamless the delivery.
For my husband and I, the past few months have been an exercise in uprooting and replanting, something that despite the fact we’ve done this several times together, is no less disorienting each time. From the rhythms of a week, to the faces of friends and coworkers, and even the very work that fills your days, everything is an adjustment. It is impossible not to view everything comparatively, from traffic to grocery stores to how friendly strangers are (or aren’t) on the street.
There are always things that come as a welcome change, and always things to miss.
Now, it’s strange to think back on the early days of our adjustment to Washington, D.C. in 2013. At the time, I struggled with feeling ripped away from the familiar, moving to a city where we didn’t really know anyone. I felt incredibly lost and unmoored. I took the picture of that fiery and pleasingly round tree above in Rock Creek Park just two weeks after we moved. I remember feeling like such a stranger. And low and behold, we soon found our spot. In the process, we acquired a taste for Ethiopian and Peruvian cuisines and now miss the accessibility to it, and felt lucky to be a quick train ride to the most amazing collection of museums. We got to know incredible people with whom I hope we know for the rest of our lives. Some friends at our church made sure we had meals lined up the whole week we were packing up. I couldn’t have imagined those first couple of months how hard it would eventually be to say goodbye. A season of my life, as distinct as a ring on a tree, and incomplete without.
As we find our spot in Cleveland and in our new (old) house, there are reminders everywhere that we too are passing through, and others have come before us. The previous owners, some wonderful people whom we’ve gotten to know a little bit, left us this photo that they inherited with the house when they moved in. It’s the house (c. 1940) after a good Cleveland snow, with a little boy who grew up here back when it was still considered “new construction”.
I believe this etching in the cedar closet belongs to this same boy a few years later. W.W. was going through his own kind of flux and uncertainty about his future, and who he would spend it with, apparently. (Not to worry, by 1964, he had gotten things figured out when he scratched W.W. + Judy Z. into the wall).
While his mother may have been displeased to find his teenage angst permanently on display in the woodwork, I love it.
This old house we are making into our home has been home to others before us and they have left their mark. I’m sure we’ll leave ours somehow, and it will become and inextricable part of us too.
In the front yard, there is a sourgum tree, which I’m told will be brilliant come fall. We learned that the previous owners planted it when their oldest son was born thirteen years ago. It’s Henry’s tree.
Henry, a tender soul who too has been slowly adjusting from his move out of this house and into a new neighborhood, has already reminded me on three occasions when he’s stopped by to pick up the mail, to please take care of his tree.
I’ve assured him that I’ll look after it and that he can come visit it whenever he likes. He tells me he’ll be by every year to see how much it’s grown.
Though I imagine that the changes will be indistinguishable compared to all the life that has happened to him in the meantime.
A song for today: All the Roots Go Deeper When It’s Dry – David Wilcox