Six years ago, when my family moved from a suburban lot in Texas to the feet of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I felt we had entered Eden. Rivers brimmed with water, the landscape curved voluptuous, and trees covered hills and mountains in the rich, warm shades of autumn. Soon after our arrival, I wrote the following.
I grew up beneath the outstretched arms of a century-old native pecan tree, its limbs reaching up and over our historic two-story home. In winter, bare branches were stark sentinels against the cold blue sky. Then spring brought flush after flush of leaves, softening the severe lines.
There were other trees on our property, too. In memory, my father planted any seed, seedling, and transplant that had a chance of surviving. There were ash, live oak, jujubee, pecan, mesquite and pine trees. And though the great pecan tree towered over all, the patriarch of our yard, every one of them gave us the dreamy shifting patterns of light and shade that carpeted our play yard.
For the last six years, I have lived without the shadows of trees. My suburban lot, scraped bare to facilitate quick construction, was bereft of even the tiniest of trees. Sunlight, at all times during the year, struck our faces unfiltered by leaves, branches, or fruit. The grass was always warm and bright beneath our feet, neither marked nor cooled by the shadow of overhead beauty. The soft, mysterious light between the shadows of trees was missing.
Now I have it again, almost to excess, an abundance of light and shadow, dark patterns and mellow autumn light moving across my children’s upturned faces as they stretch out their hands to catch the drifting colors.
After three years in the eastern United States, we moved to California and lived on three acres in the central coastal mountains of Santa Cruz County. It was a whole new world of trees, tenacious, always green despite the drought, and never mindful of seasons. There, our land was speckled with coastal live oaks, a living playground made for exercising body and imagination.
Redwoods still towered in little pockets here and there outside the great forest parks. On our neighbor’s land, a beguiling footpath curved past an old farm shed and led us to a fairy ring of the ancient giants. Beneath their evergreen branches, upon the cool, soft carpet they laid for our feet within the masses of pale, voluminous ferns, we stepped back in time to the fragrance of fecund, unplowed earth.
Now we’re back on the east coast and as we wound our way to our new home through familiar, brightly-hued landscapes, I looked forward to again experiencing the change of seasons with my old friends, while in the pages of my mind are pressed memories of all the trees I have loved.