Last week, I spent time with the big, old, now-dead ash tree, a towering skeleton in our yard, its bark sloughing off in sheets.
If ever there was a physical metaphor for vanquished life, embodied sorrow, this was it.
Yet how deceiving appearances can be. There was so much more here.
Since it would be gone by the time we returned a few days later, I wanted to make my goodbyes, express my appreciation.
For all of those years of shade, all of the homes it has provided for so many living things. For how its leaves have nourished the soil, and for not once creating any damage to property, or others, despite the great number of intense storms it has endured; the weight of snow and ice it has borne.
Yes, my petty thoughts noted, it was difficult to grow tomatoes out there under all that shade.
But the blessings this relation of ours from the plant kingdom has showered are not only numerous but, more humbling, so often taken for granted, day by day.
In a way, as the stage of its death has played out over a span of time, it feels that there is sadness and grief, former burdens carried by hearts like mine, that this decades-long companion is bearing away with it when the workers and their equipment take it down and haul it away.
Even its final act is service: heat for our neighbors in some future wintry days.
I read recently that the denizens of the natural world, the trees and their brothers, streams and their sisters, all expend their energy to offer up what benefits others, yet never make use of it themselves.
This reality is the most timeless of the gifts my Ash brother leaves behind him.