For years, from my upstairs window, I clocked the seasons by a giant stately oak who stood in my neighbors' backyard. For more than 20 years, the oak served as the compass point for the transition from winter to spring and back again. Once the setting sun moved to one side of the oak or the other, I began readying my house and the land for change. The oak was stability in change, majesty in routine; she was my friend.
A few years ago, I noticed that the oak was thinning, dropping bushels of acorns, finding Spring a harder step forward and Fall closer to a final journey. I was losing my friend, my compass. I spent a great deal of time fretting about the eventual loss of the oak, what Wendell Berry refers to in a famous poem as “forethought of grief,” something only we humans waste our time on. But despite my worry, my oak and I continued to welcome each other with the first light of dawn, when her old wrinkles seemed so deep, and say good night with each setting sun, when her brittle frame stood witchlike against the purple and gold, even in July.
Then last summer, a new family moved into the oak’s house, a young family with a toddler, a dog and another baby on the way. I saw the dad out in the yard, looking up at my oak and her many leafless branches. I braced for the worst, which I knew all along would come. She was sick and dying and he knew it.
A few days later, the tree trimmers arrived, with large equipment, pulleys, ropes, chainsaws. I went into the house, turned up the music on my CD player nearly as loud as it could go and wept. Hours later, when all was quiet, I went out the back door and into the yard and peered upward at the sky, just the sky and empty space. My friend was gone.
Later on, after a flood of tears, I happened to realize that this was the last day of the lunar cycle, the point at which we are asked to let go of what no longer serves us and welcome in what is coming to serve us now. Ok, maybe....
The next day on the new moon, I met my neighbors, offered my condolences for their loss, and assumed they would now find me the crazy lady that lives two doors down. But they were welcoming, nonjudgmental, seemingly as saddened by the loss of the oak as I was...well, almost. The dad wanted to show me his plans for starting a garden right where the oak had stood, teaching his children the value of growing food and tending the yard. With the oak gone, sunlight flooded the space, now empty space full of opportunity, fertile space tended by the oak all those years for just such a purpose.
I still miss the oak and her dependable timekeeping. I miss her grandeur and her patience with scampering squirrels and the incessant nest-building of robins and owls and hawks. I still look out the upstairs window and expect to see her sometimes. But of course, there is only empty space.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Wayne Dyer