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Tribute to an old friend

by Emily Jelliffe

Good-bye Spirit TreeWhen I was in grade five, my job was to draw a humongous tree for the class mural. Although I wasn’t very good at drawing, I had a knack for making branch upon branch extend to fill the empty page. That’s how I like the naked sky to be: lined with veins of life, dancing with leaves and blossoms. It thrills me to look up and see the umbrella above vibrant with colour, changing with the seasons, and pure in it’s stance, whether stark or full. I like to observe the canopy reaching and growing and blooming with beauty. I like it to emphasize the fullness, bounty and strength that life gives us. I like how submerged in the present moment it is and how it causes me to surrender to this moment too.

People say that dog is “man’s best friend,” but I would argue that “tree” fills this description more accurately. Consider some of the gifts trees bring us: air, food, fire, shelter, furniture, musical instruments, paper and even comfort in a lonely landscape. From that perspective, there’s no further argument. Have you ever actually made friends with a tree? I mean, hung out, talked, hugged? My favourite tree is a friend of mine, and this tribute is really a eulogy. For those who knew this elm will miss it greatly too. Have you ever been driving or walking by Province House and noticed a woman hugging one of the giant elm trees there? That woman was probably me, visiting my friend “Spirit Tree.” However, I’m not the only tree hugger in town, perhaps it was Candy or Dixon, or one of the many other people who gravitated to this kind elder. Spirit Tree was my first real tree friend. I named this gracious giant Spirit Tree because he gave my spirit a lift each time I went to see him.

It’s hard to remember when I first found a need to go and sit with my friend, but, over the years, I grew to love my visits. Pouring your heart out to a tree is a great way to surrender your ego and get truthful with yourself.

Last summer, I took my newborn son for a walk to meet Spirit Tree. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach when I saw no leaves gracing his branches, when I noticed the vast difference of the nearby giants with wide spreads of foliage standing next to my tree’s bare lifeless limbs. What had happened to cause this? Disbelief and sadness swept over my senses. I had taken it for granted that Spirit Tree would always be here. The empty space left in the sky will haunt me with rich memories. I’ll remember making footprints in the snow to touch him, and how often I reached across his vast trunk to absorb his stillness, and how beautiful it was to sit at his base and take in the world around. I’ll remember how, even if I was blocks away and could see only his branches, that this mere recognition would compel me to dash over and say a quick “hello.” I’ll remember the many nights I fled to him on my bicycle and how, standing 100-feet tall, he gave me the courage to let all my guards down until my own spirit rose to meet his. I’ll remember the many times I whispered into one of his crevices all the stories of my heart and how aligning with him was like tapping into a pipeline of grace that was fed by Mother Earth.

I am not the only one who will miss him. I imagine, like myself, many people (and animals) who have crossed his path will be saddened by his absence. To celebrate the life of Spirit Tree is to share my love of trees with others and to embrace this moment in life, however full or empty it may be.

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