We live profoundly with our trees up here in the North Country. Everyone in Vermont has their fair share and some of us have even more. Known as the Green Mountain State we are deeply wooded and watered and so just as black and white cows are a feature of our landscape, so even more are the trees. There are plenty of firs and pine keeping our mountains green all winter long. But it is the Sugar Maples for which we are most famous. Blazing red and orange in the dappled buttery light of autumn, people come from all over just to see our trees.
Every country place has one or more trees that are more than leaves and bark. They are strong immoveable elements of the landscape. Spirits of the land.
The one that sits outside our front porch is at least a hundred years old — maybe two. Our whole family can sit comfortably around its base. And its canopy tops out around ninety feet. Sugar maples branch out low to the ground and reach out wide to grab their own sunlight beyond the upper boughs of the tree. But we get lots of nor’easters up here and these old trees are susceptible to the high wind speeds. So we have had tree experts come in and stabilize its sweeping branches with delicate rods. I worried that it would react poorly to the intervention. I needn’t have. The next year it blazed brighter than ever.
Our smallholding is blessed with gobs of color every autumn and Maples abound. But this one tree and I have a deeper connection. I know she (for I think of her as the Mother tree) has sheltered lots of moms and dads, kids and dogs over the life of this old farmhouse. We were not the first and we have not been here the longest either. Still we have shared real intimacies. My old Berner Eloise and I would sit on the grass in her later years and watch the robins built their nests in the big bushes underneath our tree. The tree would lend leaves and twigs and bark and seeds to the effort. On her last day Eloise and I watched a young robin couple flutter back and forth from tree to bush just as we had countless times before. And now as I tramp down to get the last of the raspberries and blackberries I sit with Oscar under this same tree. Pippi and Violet wander around coming back often to touch base with us.
That’s the thing about this tree. Maybe because it is such a huge presence. Maybe because it is always in sight whether I am on the front porch swing or at night in the tub up on the balcony or just wandering around picking berries. The tree is base. It is a living testament to time and presence and home. I feel her spirit especially in the fall when the light and color drip down on us from all around. The soft orangery light is like the secret gift of this Vermont life. Our house and windows are drizzled with it. For a few weeks every year it is as if the whole landscape has been dipped in honey. And the tree takes her rightful place as the center in our little show. Hers in a lesson in taking the long view. Hold on she whispers. The color always comes back. I know the soul of this tree. And somehow I reckon she knows mine.