catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 13, Num 12 :: 2014.06.13 — 2014.06.26


The flicker tree

She stood at the edge of our back woods, tall and sure-rooted. Our “flicker tree” — she who, down through the years, incubated and birthed families of this fascinating woodpecker species. She sipped lifestrength from nearby springs, and health from rich, unspoiled organic soil. How long she had been there before we cleared this land to build our home, we’ll never know. Arrowheads unearthed from these woods point to Native American footfalls close by. Was she there when they hunted ancestors of our present deer? Our black bear? Our bobcat? Did those hunters’ children romp around her, too? What accounts of unpretentious, native drama must she preserve quietly within her heart?

There she stood, as she had for decades, her view newly opened to meadow. We never knew her genus or species, only that her distinct wood ignited flicker instinct to jackhammer nest hollows into her heartwood. Each spring, as early morning sun awakened them, fresh-hatched flicker babies would peek their heads out of our tree and squawk, begging Mama for more food…and still more. And, each year, before the flickers came, a rare flock of cedar waxwings would choose her for their scenic overlook where they sunned themselves into the season.

A tall, sturdy sentinel at woods’ edge, she provided a lofty lookout for a sharp-shinned hawk, watching…waiting…for small birds or chipmunks scurrying far below. She was squirrels’ favorite playground as they spiraled up, down and around her, playing catch-me-if-you-can through her long, leafy branches. Tired from racing, babies would run back to their roofless penthouse nest, cushioned by her leaves of fall before. In winter their parents had huddled on her high branches, tails blanketing their backs, to catch thin sun’s warmth. Her seedpods nourished birds, squirrels and small woods herbivores. How many children did she bless earth with, as her seeds scattered on winds of unnumbered seasons?

Like a soothing hand on a feverish forehead, she cooled the long, green grasses with shade where our collie, then our dachshund, later our sheltie, then our Jack Russell, all in different decades, lay for relief from summer heat. Her overhanging leaves generously shaded generations of buttercups and forget-me-nots in August’s searing sun, giving us blue canning jars full of fragrant wildflowers, reminiscent of a young child’s sweet, tousled hair. Her soothing shade canopied our children as they picnicked on threadbare quilts spread beneath her in summer’s deliciously lazy days.  She created haven and a windbreak for cardinals nesting in low-lying brush close by, and a podium for the brilliant red male to proclaim this tree and her surroundings his property.

Ever on windwatch, she turned her soft-swaying leaves silver-side-up in the rain wind, whispering, “Rain coming.” When her branches grew too feeble for her to hold them high, storm winds splintered them off in varied pieces, and she gifted us with fuel for our wood stove, reassuring us of warmth in coming winter. As her long-weathered cloak of bark began to loosen, large, pileated woodpeckers pecked off sizeable pieces and sent them flying to the ground, exposing nourishing insect meals.  Increasingly vulnerable to the elements, our once-strong tree weakened visibly.

And then, in a sudden, overwhelming rainstorm, her roots unable to sustain her hold in the ground securely, she wavered and fell in one slow, graceful arc.  And there she lay, cradled in the same space where she had poured her life into others. I felt a sweeping sadness to see her supine, our once stately tree. Still, her giving went on and on.

Now in the final season of her giving, outlined by her Creator’s deeper, intricate design, she surrenders all she has left, feeding the ground, satiating small insects’ to microscopic organisms’ need for sustenance, offering inner nooks to whoever can squeeze inside, as her heartwood crumbles away — a hiding place. She lies there still, a sweet memory of selflessness, offering her very essence.

One day not far from now, having enriched untold generations, our old flicker tree will complete her purpose and disappear, becoming one with the rich soil that gave her life. And we are ever blessed for having known her.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus