March 7, 2012


Traces of spring are easy to see as I walk through my garden. Green shoots are everywhere though the temperature is cold enough to oblige me to wear a jacket and mittens. The view from my front window is glorious, too. There, the sight of parked cars is softened by the branches of a large, flowering plum tree. It has stood outside my window for the 35 years I have occupied the premises and before. I’ve grown so accustomed to it, I sometimes forget it’s standing there.


Yesterday, small buds appeared to indicate that winter is giving way to the coming season. I found the sight comforting, though a night wind had damaged one of the smaller branches. The broken limb lay on the pavement and the wound on the trunk was directly in my line of vision. I wondered if the tree would survive.

As I thought about this tree’s future, another one came to mind: Betty Smith’s, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” The story is about an Irish immigrant family living in New York’s squalor between 1912 and World War II. Outside the family’s window stands a Tree of Heaven. It seems indestructible despite many attempts to uproot it. By the novel’s end, the family, now in better times, is about to move uptown and as if to celebrate their good fortune, the Tree of Heaven has sprouted a new shoot… a symbol of tenacity’s reward, perhaps. 

I hope my plum tree has that same courage as the fictional one. I’ve given it the best of care, of course; but even trees have a natural life span. Still, it has stood outside my window for decades, filling the space with frothy blossoms in spring and garnet leaves in summer or reaching bare, gothic limbs to the heavens in winter. It has cheered me through a presumed terminal illness, through one or two major surgeries and kept me cheerful when, for a time, I lived from hand to mouth without employment. For years, it has peered into my rooms and watched my hair turn from brown to grey. We have grown old together and during that time, the tree has taught me steadfastness and hope. For every winter there is a spring.  For every loss there is renewal.  

Despite its wound, I am certain my plum tree will survive another season… as probably will I. A tree grows in Portland as it does in Brooklyn, in Timbuktu and the Himalayas, a silent messenger to remind us that there is always hope and that most traumas can be endured.