Some people reminisce about four-legged companions they’ve loved and lost, but I’ve never had a pet. Rather, trees have been my cherished companions and teachers. As summer approaches and my dear friends reach their annual fullness, I look back fondly on the trees that have meant the most to me. I know now that some of them were invasive imports, but as with any beloved companion or confidante, at the time I wasn’t concerned about their origin.
Mimosa was the first. This enticing beauty stood alone on the small patch of grass outside my bedroom window in the ranch house my family moved into when I was a young teen. In the throes of budding adolescent sensuality, just saying the word “mimosa” made my lips dance. Knowing that the tree was of Asian origin stimulated my fantasies of lands far from my staid suburban life. The shimmering white and pink pompon flowers—light, delicate and feathery—seemed to mirror my first experience with young love. Gazing at its splendor and smelling its exotic fragrance, my inner and outer worlds blossomed to romantic yearnings.
In my mid-30s, an ailanthus tree offered healing after a nearly fatal health crisis consumed two years of my life. When I was searching for an apartment in Center City Philadelphia, the realtor brought me to a quiet little street. Apartments on such streets were difficult to obtain. Two rooms on the ground floor were modest, but all I could afford while rebuilding my life. A door from the bedroom opened to a coveted city courtyard with a high privacy wall. Noticing my gaze at the huge tree right outside the window that might be my bedroom, the realtor said, “It’s an ailanthus tree, also known as ‘tree of heaven.’”
There was a small patch of earth directly across the courtyard from the tree, and the thought “hammock” immediately flashed in my mind. I imagined sinking a wooden pole into the earth to attach the hammock to my tree.
“I’ll take it!” I told the realtor.
I moved in and began researching how to put up a hammock. It didn’t matter that I had no tools and had never poured concrete, which would be needed to secure the hole I would dig in the patch of earth. When I went to buy the 2×4 that would become my hammock’s pole, it was the first time I’d ever even been to a lumberyard.
Hanging my hammock felt essential for my well-being—not merely to be close to sky and tree in the midst of urban hustle bustle, or to swing under my “tree of heaven” doing the reading, writing and meditating that would prove vital for my recovery. Just as important was believing I could turn a barren patch of earth into an oasis of healing.
A dozen years later, while visiting a friend at a mountain lake, I communed daily with a family of trees. Early each morning before anyone else was awake, I swam out to the wooden raft, ditched my bikini and floated on my back, gazing at the trees encircling the lake. Never had I felt so free and nurtured—the warmer surface water hugging my bare body and the crystalline sky and green treetops saturating my eyes and spirit. After days of this ritual, the poem “dance in lace” poured out of me, symbolizing the most profound healing experience of my life.
While my friends have photos of their pets displayed throughout their homes, I’ve paid homage to my relationship with trees. A green and gold frame holding my poem written in calligraphy hangs on my wall alongside photos of beloved family members.
dance in lace
the morning sky
in dark green lace
when the lace took pause
a yard or so
swirled it around
my bare swaying body
to join their dance