Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Eulogy for Three Trees

I feel sad today. You may think the reason for my sadness is weird. But I can’t help it.

I should tell you that I don’t qualify as a great naturalist. Buildings with central air, carpeting, indoor plumbing, cable, and Internet access constitute my natural habitat. My idea of roughing it is three days at the Holiday Inn.

I’m not a hater of nature. No Christian can be; after all, God is the inventor of this intricate and beautiful universe in which we live. But let’s just say that with two exceptions, I tend to appreciate nature from afar.

One exception is the human race. I’m fascinated by people. Their capacity for doing incredible things amazes me. In so much of what people do, I see evidence confirming that we truly are creatures made, as the Old Testament book of Genesis tells us, “in the image of God.”

Another natural wonder that grabs my attention is trees. I don’t know why it is, but I love trees. Maybe they amaze me because, like human beings they have the capacity to weather storms and keep reaching toward the heavens, an ability to grow in ways and places that defy the odds. Once they’ve grown to a certain point, trees provide shade, nesting places, climbing walls, and beauty to any lawn or garden. And from the moment they sprout, they interact with the oxygen-breathing species of the planet to clear our air and recycle our exhaled CO2.

I love to walk through woods any time of the year, their canopies forming natural cathedrals where I can praise God. I agree with the farmer who once told me, “You can’t put a high enough value on a tree!”

That’s why I’m sad.

When we first looked at our home fourteen years ago, the owner of the house showed us the backyard. The place was only two years old then. During its construction, he’d insisted that three of the trees on the property, all of which had stood near a farmhouse, be kept. They were box elders, members of a not very esteemed species, but tall, stately, and shade-giving nonetheless. The previous owner had also planted some corkscrew willows, maples, and evergreens in the backyard. “In three years,” he told my wife and me, “this place will be a paradise.”

Within weeks of our moving in, one of the box elders, the one closest to the house in the back, was felled in a storm. The remaining box elder there has grown tall. And under my wife’s watchful care, our backyard has become, if not a paradise, a beautiful place. Its beauty is augmented by some trees my son added.

Our front yard has been presided over by an elder that is now at least fifty feet tall. It sets on a rise and has given distinctive character and shade not only to us, but to our street.

As I write this though, workers are beginning to bring both box elders and one of the corkscrew willows down. There is no choice. The trunk of one of the elders has bifurcated, the other is surviving only on its outer rings. The corkscrew was slashed in half in a recent thunderstorm. None would likely survive the winter to come and if they fell, would destroy ours or our neighbors’ property.

Of course, this is the way of our natural world. Solomon noted in Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament that in this world, there’s a time to live and die. There’s also a time to mourn and to laugh.

I’m not mourning for these beautiful trees today. But I am sad to see them go and like them, I hope to be as useful to God and others on the day I die as I was when God’s love was first planted in my heart.

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