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BILL HAYES: A Year In Trees

from The New York Times

A Year in Trees


Rebecca Mock

SOMEONE asked me the other day how I had gotten over the sudden death of someone I loved. What I wanted to say but found myself unable to explain (for it would have sounded too strange) was that I learned a good deal about moving through grief from some trees I once knew. They were not my trees. I didn’t plant them. I lived in an apartment surrounded by them. The only tending done was to give them my full attention over the course of four seasons.

When I moved in it was April, still cold, and the branches were bare. Facing northeast, my view of Manhattan was unobstructed, seen through a latticework veil. There were five trees, each distinct. They were not beautiful. My next-door neighbor, a landscape designer, told me that the species, Ailanthus altissima, is an urban weed. But I never expected beauty. That they were tall and strong and present was enough. I found that Ailanthus derives from an Indonesian word meaning “tree of heaven.”

I didn’t cover the windows with shades or curtains. I would wake with the sun and lie in bed and watch the tree limbs for a minute. Some mornings, the branches looked as if they were floating on wind drafts, as light as leaves. With a stormy sky, they turned black and spindly, like shot nerve endings.

Two years had passed since my longtime partner’s death, and though I had largely adjusted to his absence, I still experienced intense pangs of grief — painful unpleasure, in Freud’s exquisite phrase. At times, I’d be tempted to take out old photos, just to look, just one picture, just for a minute, like a junkie on the verge of relapsing. But I resisted. I had seen the trees stand up to strong winds and hold their own against the elements.

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Posted on April 7, 2013 by Editor

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