It stood through a lot of things. But The World’s Biggest Bonsai is finally gone.
It wasn’t really a bonsai, of course, except in my own wisecracks. The WBB was a small fruit tree on the corner of our property, one that had the ludicrous survival ability of the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” – even after losing limb after limb, it would keep coming back for more.
Woodpeckers gnawed away at its trunk. Ice storms broke off a large branch, windstorms another, leaving less and less. For the last six months, it had had one major branch left, reaching out to the sky in mute appeal.
For a while, it looked like it would survive yet again. The smaller branches remaining on that thick wood had begun to bud, getting ready to offer what shade and bounty it could, with whatever it had left.
And then Tuesday’s windstorm came. The one with the 80 mph gales.
Broken at the base.
When a tree is pretty much all one branch, there isn’t much margin for error.
It’s mostly been removed now. (For which, by the way, I must offer thanks to a kindly neighbor who left me a pleasant surprise while I was at work.) But even though it no longer stands, the memories it entwined with have deep roots.
This was the tree that was casually referred to as “the cherry tree” by most of the family, even after years of growing and dropping crabapples.
This was the tree that our cousin Melanie’s family helped us doctor once, carving up the remains of its latest battle. And also the tree that stood nearby as I hugged Mel for the last time when she’d had an impossible morning, just a few days before her unexpected passing.
It was the Tree That Lived, with apologies to J.K. Rowling. Always a little smaller, always a bit more battered, but somehow still standing against all the odds.
And against the odds, it had become a milestone.
You know what I mean, I’m sure: a memory that holds down one of the corners of your life, one by which you orient your other memories. “Remember when … ?” Some of them are obvious, like a wedding or a birth or a death. Others are more unusual but still unmistakable – parts of my life, for example, are sorted by whether they happened before or after The Night Scott Stepped Off The Stage And Into The Orchestra Pit.
But some are much more subtle. The quiet events that meant so much later. The place where so much happened to happen. The person whose influence you didn’t realize at the time, but can’t think of now without wanting to thank them.
They can be the phone call in the night. The chat on the bus ride home. They can be a hundred things that suddenly leap to mind after the fact, a flashbulb that makes the picture clearer.
And they can be us.
Most of us don’t get to write grand history that gets set down for the ages. But we all touch lives. We all have the chance to hurt or heal. Which means we all have the chance to be that memory that means the world to someone, even if we never know it.
The branch breaks. The moment passes. But the marks remain, shaping what’s left behind.
Reach out. Take the moments, large or small. You never know which one will be the one that lasts.
Even if it does mean going out on a limb.