As the tree grew, the new leaves in spring brought us hope. Its leafy branches in summer brought us its cool shade, a place to talk in the heat of the afternoon, as we sipped ice tea and lazed in the hot days. In the fall, its colorful leaves reminded us of the cycle of life and brought more beauty to our lives. When winter came, the bare limbs provided rough bark support for the flakes of sparkling snow on crisp days.
Over the years, the tree grew big and strong, and we took its presence in the yard for granted. Kids played noisily under its branches, and brought their friends. All too soon, they grew up and moved away. As the years passed, they’d come back, spouses and kids in tow, and children’s laughter was again heard under its spreading limbs.
As with us all, the tree grew old, losing a bit of its strength. One bitter day, a big storm cracked its trunk clear to the ground, and it was time to cut it down. Suddenly, that space in the yard no longer was filled with summer shade, or the maze of limbs sprinkled with the spring green of new leaves, or the orange and red fire of autumn.
Its thick trunk and fat limbs soon turned into a big pile of firewood, that warmed me as I split and stacked the seasoned hard wood. We were warmed again as the stove crackled and popped, during the depths of many a winter gale and early mornings, when my breath would turn white as I stood near the snowy flat top of the stump, my eye still seeing its tall, proud form.
I sat by the stump of the old tree one spring day, a new sapling in my hand, ready to plant. We needed a new tree there, in that corner of the yard, for the summer shade, and the colorful leaves in the fall, a place where kids could play and laugh. The yard seemed empty without a tree, in all its growing, in its presence in our lives.
Like many things in life, we didn’t really see the tree until it was gone, its silent place in our lives now missed, like the sound of children’s laughter after they’re grown.
I noticed the rings in the wood of the old tree stump. In counting the rings, I could tell its age, and remembered the events of our lives. And, in the counting, I saw that the big growth in the tree was in the spring and summer, when sun and warmth and water were plentiful. The thin, hard wood of the tree, its real strength, had come in the seeming deadness of the winter, when the storms and snows and freezing nights raged, when all seemed silent and lost.
As with new saplings and old wood, strength comes both in the flexibility of new growth, and the storm tested wood added in the height of a dark, cold winter.