I am not one to get all mushy over a dying tree. Troubled, irritated, inconvenienced? Yes. Overwrought and saccharine? Nope.
For three years after we took guardianship of this land called Windcliff in 2000, we spent our weekends descrying the play of light and patterns of wind on this property. Over time, we agreed upon the orientation of the expanded house as well as the invitation into the house- the front door- the one decision that never seems to receive sufficient contemplation in our culture.
In an attempt to keep intact the pneuma of its original gardeners, Peg West and Mary Stech, we knew we would keep signatures from the original landscape to embrace our new home. Due to the logistics of construction, exactly which ones would or could remain was undetermined.
During late October of 2001, upon my arrival home from an extended stay in Asia, we packed our dogs and assorted foodstuffs for another weekend respite to our once and future home. During that weekend, we witnessed an entire family of pileated woodpeckers ravishing the succulent red fruit of a multi-stemmed specimen of the Pacific Dogwood, Cornus nuttallii, rising to nearly 45′, slightly west of the existing home. The entire framework of this tree was lavished by lime-green lichen while its lingering foliage still held tints of orange/red. It was, however, its height, balance and foist upon the land that dictated a consideration of this tree as a point of convergence into our yet undesigned home. If not the decision itself, at least the seeds of one were harvested that weekend.
Soon enough realizing its significance as ‘point of departure’, I moved the memorial stone of our still-mourned canine companion, Emerson, to the shade of its branches. Using the tree as signal and sentinel, we signed off on the exact placement of the front door of our new home. The dogwood would assuredly welcome our guests for as long as we would live here.
From an old Islam expression, brought to my attention by Khaled Hosseini, “How seamless once seemed love, and then came trouble”. Four consecutive cool and rainy springs and summers spelled doom for a tree holding its own against an introduced species of anthracnose, a fungal disease affecting flowering dogwoods across North America. We watched helplessly as its symptoms advanced from no fruit to no flower to ultimately no foliage. Weakened beyond recovery, it failed to regain breath in the spring of 2009.
Through rasp and growl, foot by foot, this splendid specimen was brought back its origin, and, fait accompli, I deciphered its history. Five individuals had germinated here, simultaneously, 47 years prior. Its wood had captured the sun and rain of nearly five decades, which through all too I have lived. Afterward, I dusted away the ground shards of its layers upon layers from the memorial stone of my beloved dog that had rested in its shade.