You Shine Where You Stand

Everymorning, for the past 13 years, I have thrown open my bathroom window, regardless of the weather, to say hello to my tree.

A cherry tree, over 30 years old, growing right next to our house. Skeletal bones in the winter, decorated only with songbirds. In spring, I watch the secret buds swell and then burst. Much of what I know about the timing of plants in the Bay Area I have measured against the reference of its marshmellowy blooms. In summer, large dark green leaves whisper, chattering with the light breeze, and I can leave the window open to hear its ongoing commentary. Come autumn, I am always sad to see the leaves begin to curl and turn orange. I bid a sweet goodnight, with wishes for a restorative nap and count the days until spring comes.

I also realized recently that there are countless times throughout my days in this house where my heart sends out a silent greeting to its friendly branches. Everytime I walk down the hall, there is the tiniest surge of joy as I walk past the bathroom. When I come home, and walk past my craft table, right next to a window overlooking the garden, I make the briefest of check-ins to top off my list of “reasons to be grateful.”. At its roots in the garden, I buried my two pet rats when they passed on in 2003. Anchor, friend and source of inspiration, I have loved this tree and have often thought how hard it will be when I move some day, to have to say goodbye.

On Friday, I came home from supervision to see one of the garden directors putting branches in a pile. I was standing on my second story steps, and we chatted about our day and he mentioned that they were just finishing clearing up the tree. I had noticed the day before that the bushes surrounding its trunk had been cleared out, which I thought looked nice. I had also noticed at the time, a giant shelf fungus growing at the base. I mentioned this, and then went to point at the area….

…and what I saw was a hole in the sky. My tree. My tree was gone. Just….gone.

“Didn’t you know? We’ve been having meetings about it. Didn’t you get any of the emails?”

I had not. The email address they were using has been defunct for months.

The shelf fungus was rotting the tree from the inside out. The city wanted it removed. A liability. I understand.

And yet, its branches were just going into bloom. It was just waking up. It was still, very much alive. I picked up some of the branches from the pile with soft white blossoms intact, and I felt the slow thrumming, and also its confusion. What just happened? I thought, “Well, at least I can move now.” Then I went inside, and sobbed my heart out.

The branches are in a jar on my kitchen table, the blossoms still opening. One last season, one last privilege to bear witness.

(I made this tribute to my tree in 2008. Its glitchy from using photobooth on my mac, and it makes me look like I’m dippy and drunk….its embarassing and I don’t want to post it, but this is the only record I have of my friend, and I do want to give you a little experience of its glory.)

Bonny Portmore (adapted from the traditional celtic song by Loreena McKennit)

O bonny Portmore, you shine where you stand
And the more I think on you the more I think long
If I had you now as I had once before
All the lords in Old England would not purchase Portmore.

O bonny Portmore, I am sorry to see
Such a woeful destruction of your ornament tree
For it stood on your shore for many’s the long day
Till the long boats from Antrim came to float it away.

O bonny Portmore, you shine where you stand
And the more I think on you the more I think long
If I had you now as I had once before
All the Lords in Old England would not purchase Portmore.

All the birds in the forest they bitterly weep
Saying, “Where will we shelter or where will we sleep?”
For the Oak and the Ash, they are all cutten down
And the walls of bonny Portmore are all down to the ground.

O bonny Portmore, you shine where you stand
And the more I think on you the more I think long
If I had you now as I had once before
All the Lords of Old England would not purchase Portmore.


9 thoughts on “You Shine Where You Stand

  1. This may be a silly thought, but could you take one of the branches and plant it in some good soil in an attempt to grow a new tree? It couldn’t hurt to try. I can’t believe it’s been 3 years since I first saw that video.

    1. that’s a wonderful idea walter. kinda like grafting or propagating. i’m going to look into it and see if it’s even possible. if it is, i would feel so joyous knowing that i could grow its offspring. thank you.

    1. its true, a lot of folks don’t. i was explaining to my partner that everything is “people” to me. there are human people, and then there are animal people and rock people and plant people and tree people….animals have the same look in their eyes that human babies do, and the relationships i build with non-humans are no different than with my own species. its hard to walk in the world feeling this way, especially if i don’t hide it, but i’ve gotten to the point where i no longer question the validity of what i’m experiencing and that makes all the difference. you “get” it and i am so thankful for that. xo

  2. i’m so sorry. i have grown plants from cuttings from our ficus tree. that really may be possible if you get some of that toxic rooting hormone white powdery stuff? i would have lost it. i would have thrown a tantrum. i’m glad you went in and balled. that is exactly what was needed. i love the video. and i love your instant response. at least i can move now. that reminds me of the lady who runs perelandra, and how she uses nature, these guys just gave it a little, i mean big, push into death, to tell her when it’s time to move on to whatever. geez. it’s so intense.

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