The study window looks out on our front garden. Our kitchen window looks out on our back garden. Each one gives us a view of a particular tree. These two trees are really part of the family — never intruding, just always there, always mute and for the most part still. We think of them as two old friends, not just of ours, but quite possibly in the mystery of things, friends of one another. The one in the back garden is a hemlock, thickly branched, wide at the base and tapering as your gaze follows it upward. In its inner reaches — and it is difficult to see deeply into it because of its thick covering — it seems to remain still even in the wind, rather as the ocean depths are calm even when the surface is heaving.
Come through the house and look out at our other tree. It is a cherry. It stands with wide open branches that hide nothing in her limbs. Where the hemlock looks strong, solid and unchanging, the cherry is open, changing as it will with the seasons. Right now, winter sees the cherry gaunt, naked and vulnerable. But only this morning, I noticed one of her branches seemed to be stretching out to touch the window in my study, almost as if expressing a wish for a little attention, or perhaps making a promise that if I remain aware of this fragile wandering branch, I will someday see it explode into white trembling loveliness.
The great hemlock seems almost contemptuous of its fellow tree. In the face of this mercurial change — this vulnerability, this rhythm from dark nakedness to brilliant clothing, this tremulous journey from death to resurrection — the hemlock instead offers permanence, stolidity and consistency.
And yet, if it can be said that one discovers in oneself feelings for trees, I confess that while I respect and admire the hemlock, I love the cherry. I suspect it is because the tide of life that ebbs and flows in her beauty has the glory and the fragility of my own vulnerable humanity.