Saving the Grandmother

The men are coming on Thursday to cut the cypress.

So read the text from my landlord on Tuesday, and receiving it, a wave of angst crashed through me. Honestly, it felt traumatic to my soul. If you have followed this journal a while, you know of the Grandmother; a venerable and shapely Monterey cypress who stands at the front of this cottage, her grey and green arms outstretched over the gate and small garden.

Close to 150 years old, its great trunk grows in an elegant twist as do a couple of shapely limbs, visually reminding me that all life grows in a spiral (and that earth spins on its axis at 18.5 miles per second, hurtling on its spiral, not truly elliptical, trajectory through the galaxy at 155 miles per second). If you’re a regular reader, you know that I enjoy a close relationship with this being; that I greet her each morning as part of my barefoot ritual, stepping out to meet the dawn, and laying hands upon the roughly furrowed bark as I give thanks for the coming day. I have spent countless hours gazing at this dear beautiful tree in all sorts of weather and light, whether I am perched by the front windows to write, or seated at the round, mosaic-tiled bistro table on the deck.

About a year ago, when I reluctantly departed the sea front, poet’s cottage in the Carmel Highlands, it was only the great cypress (and a fenced yard for my English Whippets) that made this marginal cottage seem like a worthwhile place to park for a while.

The text message from my landlord, who lives in Oregon, placed a heavy grey stone on my heart.

IMG_0045Treehugger that I am, “the men are coming to cut the cypress” carried nearly the same impact as “the soldiers are coming to take the children and burn the houses”.

I have the ongoing challenge of living next door to a crazy woman. Of course I realize that ‘crazy’ is a subjective judgment, and there are any number of people who, if they knew the workings of my own mind and belief system, would apply that same term to me (whereas I think I’m one of the ‘sane’ ones, and that most so-called ‘normal’ people are pretty oblivious to the deeper nature of reality). Whatever we might label my neighbor with her front yard filled with junk, she is decidedly bi-ploar, swinging between manic and noisy engagement with her house projects — building shelves followed by taking them all apart, for example — and then disappearing inside her house for a quiet week. Bless her. Bless us all.

She is harmless, really, but for some time (years, apparently) she has been utterly fixated on the Grandmother cypress because it drops needles and pellets on her roof; which means that in her compulsive, crazy way she must get up there and clean it. Repeatedly. Shortly after I moved in, she cornered me about her ‘issue’ with the tree, asking me to bring it up with the landlord; she has also broached the subject with my partner, and apparently harps on the landlord directly.

So it was that the cottage’s owner recently agreed for the old tree to be cut and sent me a text, alerting me to the impending work. I suspect she finally just got tired of hearing from you know who.

Feeling genuinely distressed, I went out and laid my hands upon the Grandmother’s rough, thick skin and began speaking aloud, sharing the message about the tree cutters impending arrival, and inviting the tree to pull its energy inward to minimize the impact to its being. Why not … and what if it actually helped? (Read, “A Bit of Green Magic” from a couple weeks ago.)

When the cutters arrived on Wednesday, a day early, I explained that I wished the tree to be cut as minimally as possible, just enough to hopefully satisfy the neighbor, and also explaining that she is crazy and should not be listened to seriously. No sooner had I finished speaking with them and entered my gate, when she trotted out to them and, with animated gestures, began directing how she wanted it all cut back, way back.  

In the end, I felt heard by the workers and was able to save the cypress from the severe trimming my neighbor desired, and kept their saws from amputating too many of the privacy offering limbs. She has had a substantial haircut, for certain, but I think somehow it worked out as best it could, and perhaps the tree is even a bit freer, healthier, and balanced because of it. Who can say, but Grandmother may even live longer and incur less damage in the winter storms.

When it was all over, the whine of chainsaws and thud of falling branches silenced, the resin-scented wreckage of green limbs cleared away and the men gone, I went out and laid gentle hands on the great trunk; feeling as I always do an affection for this old being, as well as a sense of relief that the worst had been avoided. I know it sounds overly dramatic, but I just couldn’t live in town in this little house if it wasn’t sheltered by her graceful presence.

IMG_0772Though we continue blindly and greedily cutting them down, whether in our endless expansion of human habitat or to fuel the fires of industry, the great, mature trees offer something very important and healing, I think. At they very least, they bestow a sense of peace, beauty and joy, which are all vital to the soul. And while humans are getting better at reforesting the areas we cut — calling that ‘sustainable’ — those new, young trees are not the same as the ancient wise ones, and earth is impoverished for it.  

Someday, when I finally find my place in the world to settle, it will be where I am not hemmed in by neighbors and streets on all sides, and where I can simply step out my door and lay hands upon some wonderful trees, walking silently and joyfully among them … hearing their wordless song. Oh, how I will celebrate that.

For now, here in this little cottage in a tourist town by the sea, I continue to be grateful for and sing the praises of the Grandmother who watches over us; a standing example of the ordinary sacred in everyday life, a being who offers beauty, grace and inspiration. And I’ve placed a purple crystal at her base, a shiny little present for the nature spirits because … well, why not.

Blessed be, Grandmother, and long life to you.

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