Since I last walked the banks of the Neponset from Boston’s Hyde Park into Milton, the parks maintenance folk have visited. Several huge as well as numerous smaller tries, evergreens and deciduous alike, have been removed or had surgery.
Two in particular were striking in their feebleness or injury, as well as size. They are huge in circumference and height. They are old. They looked hale, virtually immortal.
These are effects of aging and illness that leads us (OK, me) to strained metaphors of human life.
The American beech, here left, had clearly been rotting from the inside for a long time, perhaps a century. I have a fondness for these magnificent trees. Our previous house in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood shared the yard with a specimen at least 250 years old. It was coming to the end of its time and with sadness, we had arborists crown perhaps 30 feet off to prolong its life.
These sturdy gems are the stuff of carved lovers’ hearts, climbing, swings and treehouses. The only drawback I know is that when they produce nuts ever few years, those are multitudinous and damned hard on bare feet. They also would take forever to compost.
Here’s the big metaphor. It is often the largest, strongest looking of us who are rotting away inside, by cancer or other disease. Either through obvious symptoms or accidental discovery, the seemingly invulnerable are enfeebled or felled.
We could worry this trope to death with comparisons of dealing with found illness, carrying on, giving up, blah blah. It’s enticing, but let’s not.
Around the corner, a huge evergreen apparently suffered from our huge winds. If you can apply intelligence to a tree, you’d have to wonder what it was doing putting out such a huge limb and so low. The injured limb had to go.
There’s a simpler metaphor for the amputation. Moreover, this obviously was not the first such operation for this tree.
These pine-family plants do not have the longevity or to me the beauty of the beech. Still the metaphors of blood and tears flow with the fluids. The running, hanging sap does in fact look like what a human might produce in such adversity.
No one knows now whether the pine will heal as well from this injury as the previous one. This will be a rough season for it, rife with nasty insects, viruses and bacteria that can invade an open wound much more easily than a sealed bark.
It will take a year or two to see how well the tree’s defenses worked.
It surely is sensible and safe for the park crews to cut and remove damaged limbs and living hazard trees. Yet it’s tough for us ambulatory tourists to take too. We can foresee the decline and demise of these grand lifeforms.
Caught at a weak moment, we can also fall into the poetic and even religious traps of comparing cellulose lifeforms to our own…particularly when they are weeping.