Pendula, of King George Avenue
I remember her like it was yesterday. She was the most beautiful tree on our street. She held court at the roundabout a few blocks from my house on King George Avenue. She had a proper name, Prunus Subhirtella “Pendula”, but most people knew her as a Weeping Cherry Tree. Considered an ornamental variety of cherry tree, she would never bear fruit but existed to be beautiful; a cascading dome of pink blossoms in the spring and a sturdy perch for birds. In retrospect, I wish I had photographed her blooming season during one of my daily trips by the roundabout. Her full loveliness is now a memory held wistfully by me and others in my neighborhood. She was a stunner! It wasn’t until after the storm that she truly caught my attention, compelling me to capture her raw beauty on film.
I don’t know why the trees speak to me, but they do. Perhaps they talk incessantly to everyone and only some of us are tuned in to their frequency. Whatever the truth may be, I heard her loud and clear one day. So moved was I by her sorrowful lament that I parked my car and went over to comfort her, as if I could, sliding my hands along her wounded limbs. I think she knew I was there. At least I hope she did. If not then I guess all the rumors about me are true; that I am just an eccentric old hippy who hugs trees. I’m okay with that.
There had been a storm, a terrible derecho, or as many of us unfamiliar with the term would learn, an intense, widespread and fast-moving wind storm. It had howled through Roanoke a few nights before, stripping her of her leaves and ripping a gash through her truck. A dozen or so of her severed branches were scattered on the ground, left to dry out and die. She was clinging to life, I could feel it, but she had stories yet to tell to anyone who might listen. I visited her several more times over the course of the next year.
Though she was a mangled sorry mess, the birds continued to perch on her barren limbs in the warm sun, warbling their happy songs; no less sweet than in former days when they enjoyed the shade of her green and pink canopy. Even in her brokenness, she found ways to be useful and of service. I was relieved when the city groundskeepers let her season through the rest of the summer, the fall, the winter and into one last spring.
I suppose we were all hoping for a miracle; a comeback, full-bloomed and ravishing. When spring did arrive a scant dozen or so buds burst from a lone sky-scraping limb. My heart sank. Renovations to the park brought cranes, plows and excavators. In one afternoon she was gone, but I will be forever touched and changed for having known her.
Not far from where she stood…a nursing home. Communal communities are where we send our fading family members to spend their final days. I wasn’t there when the storms of life molded the residents there. They too have their proper names, like Smith or Jones or McGillicutty, but most people know them as mom or sister or uncle or grandpa. And there are memories…oh, so many memories for those who will listen.
I imagine that they talk incessantly. In fact, I know that they do! The blush of youth may have faded from their faces, but don’t let their failing eyesight, thinning hair, stiffening limbs and toothless smiles deter you. Their cool frail hands are lovely to hold; to warm on sunny afternoons. Those of us who wish for miracles listen intently to their every word, captivated by the treasures of wisdom that only one who has lived and survived so much can tell. Oh, and we bubble with joy when that old familiar youthful spark rises to the surface for one more dance, a twinkle in the eye or a bit of swagger.
Because we know, eventually their season here will end, just like it did for Pendula. If we are lucky we will have taken the time to listen and find ourselves forever touched and changed for having known them too.