For all those trees, past present and future that I’ve neglected to hug. Thank you for this paper in my somewhat-recycled notebook. Thank you for the apple I just ate and the rain-soaked branches that stretch outside my window. Not to mention the whole taking carbon dioxide and water in and churning out more oxygen for me to breathe thing.
I have to admit, the last time I made a concerted effort to celebrate Tu B’shvat was back in grade school. I vaguely remember rewriting a Violent Femmes song to represent the Jewish fight for trees and freedom, but maybe that was for Pesach. Anyway, this year my two-year old daughter is going to an amazing Jewish Montessori school in Brooklyn and in her ten-hour school week she has learned more Jewish tradition and history than I have retained. Which is humbling and inspiring. So instead of waiting for her to explain the Knesset to me, I’d like to restart my Jewish education here and now, with a salute to some very important trees I have known.
Yoshimi. The Japanese maple tree that my father planted in our backyard in Westchester, New York. We had a lot of rocks and a small slope of lawn. Mom couldn’t believe the tree took root but it did, and grew like a lacey beach umbrella, shading our toes. In the fall it erupted in a wildfire of oranges and reds. After my father died, I often felt like Yoshimi was standing sentinel, holding up our sky.
PBJ tree. Location: Mary Hilderen’s yard. I’m assuming her dad is the one who nailed down a few floorboards and attached a green canvas roof, making this the greatest tree house palace ever constructed in the history of ever. Mary’s mom let us take peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off and box drinks of 5-Alive up into the tree and sit there choreographing our new secret handshakes for hours.
Skidoo. So-named because this tree seriously appeared out of nowhere and then was definitely in front of us and I was just learning how to drive and Mom yelped, “Turn! Turn!” but Pontiac Phoenixes aren’t that responsive to audio commands so I skidded to a stop and whimpered instead. We did make it home after a seven-point turn and a good cry.
Twiggy. Poor Twiggy. She was just beginning to come into her own. A spindly yet graceful sapling planted outside my apartment on Ellis Avenue in Hyde Park. I locked my ten-speed up to her trunk, which was no wider than my wrist. In the morning the bike was gone and so were Twiggy’s branches. The bike thief had pulled them off to airlift my two-wheeler. I actually could list at least a dozen trees I used as hitching posts during my years of living in Hyde Park, followed by Wrigleyville, Ravenswood, and Lincoln Square. But the final tree I’d like to honor today is:
Maya. Who sits in front of me right now. Rather arises, majestically from a blue terra cotta pot next to my son’s baby swing, reaching out in a long leafed canopy as he snoozes. Maya lived in my childhood home for many years, and when I moved to Brooklyn, I adopted her. I honestly didn’t expect her to survive. I’d managed to kill every species of indoor plant including a rubber tree and had a $9 budget for a monthly splurge of cut flowers. But Maya grew. And grew. My then-boyfriend-now-husband Jay made sure she always got light and every few weeks I’d douse her with a watering can. When we moved to our present home, she got the front room. And slowly, I began to…care for her. Feeding her and talking to her and sometimes even petting her leaves. Jay and I started a family, and now my children know Maya and care for her too. She’s getting closer to our ceiling every day, watching over us. And yet, I’ve never properly recognized or thanked her.
Thank you Maya, for being my anchor. My connection to my past and my companion for the present and future. Thank you for waiting until I was ready to put down my own roots and make a home. Thank you, and all of your leafy friends, for sheltering us. For giving us new breath. For making each day a cause for celebration.