Pining Over a Pine Tree

Written By: Vito  Gentile

It is so common to lose a family member or a friend, but what happens when someone cuts a branch off a tree that you enjoyed playing with?! In my back garden there is a pine tree that had this long low branch. Not so low that you couldn’t walk under it, but low enough if it wanted to play with my baseball cap. It seemed each week when I would go out there and try to mow under it, that branch’s long pine-coned finger-like tip would bend and somehow sway alongside of me, swiftly slide under the back of my hat at my hairline, and knock it off. I realize this might sound a bit strange, especially coming from someone like me who has lived exclusively in big cities like London and New York and had never pushed a lawnmower or rhapsodized over trees till I moved lock, stock and barrel out to The Hamptons. At the time, friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic took bets that I couldn’t survive fulltime our here or any other place that didn’t have that “sweet” smell of exhaust fumes and all the honking that accompanied it. Surprisingly, five years later, they’re all still taking those bets, and surprisingly, I haven’t the slightest urge to rush back. But even worse than living out here, they worried why at my age I was pushing a mower. Well, the answer is easy. My favorite pastime was to walk around the city picking up dialogue, developing characters from it and eventually working it up into a scenario for a book or a play. Besides being good exercise, it also, as Hercule Poirot would say, was good for the little gray cells. Shifting my energy from trekking around a city to pushing a mower and/or a snow blower as seasons dictated not only transferred my eavesdropping on streetwise dialogue to birdsong and surf, but in the process it added a poetic dimension to my writing and expanded my imagination. As a writer, my imagination does shift beyond the norm, but not so far that I would start humanizing trees. Well, thirty-five years ago I did write a play on just that subject, but that was an allegory. Life has not gotten so solitary that, like an only child, I had to invent an imaginary friend to play with. If I had, surely I believe I would have found something more interesting than a tree! But as it turned out, a pine tree it was! Sure, I tried to avoid the tree but I had to mow under it, didn’t I? And sure, I yelled my head off at that lug of a tree and even scolded that playful branch more than once, more than many times. But then, I must admit I did laugh as I bent forward to pick up my hat. And I bet that pine tree knew it, and I bet that it knew I knew it, too! Bumpety-bump I pushed my mower under months of hot and humid afternoon suns from one end of our near one acre back garden to the other, crisscrossing the sprinkler system, crisscrossing the bunny warrens and the groundhog tunnels, not to mention sweating while carrying the mower’s bag of grass-cuttings to our compost heap. And all the while I would be thinking of that peak moment when just as you can’t take another moment of the torturous heat, that sneaky playful branch would attack. As I said, I did enjoy it, I did look forward to our sparring, and honest to God, I truly tried to avoid it. I would pull my baseball cap down so tight on my head that sometimes I felt I might be losing circulation. Who knows, maybe that’s what was happening and it was causing me to hallucinate? But honestly, I don’t think so! It was real. For a whole summer I played a game of cat and mouse with a fifty-foot pine. If it wasn’t real, what would have been the fun of it? Sure, I know; who wants to believe that a man and a tree could enjoy such games? It took me a few weeks finally to come to that conclusion, and when I did, it took even longer to accept the fact that for some strange and wonderful reason I was being given a rare pleasure. Summer came to an end and slowly but surely mowing came to an end as well. The sprinklers were turned off, the garden furniture was taken in, the garden lighting was reconfigured, and those crafty tree climbers who had pruned the dead branches and carted them away were gone. How we long for summer, and each year when it arrives we greet it as if it were first love. But then, with the exception of a few melancholy September days, we’re ready to head back out into the garden in earmuffs and gloves, dragging lengths of colorful Christmas lights and electric deer to light up the coming winter’s darkness. I suppose autumn’s harvesting nature stands only second to its ability to make us take stock of the kind of year we’ve spent; especially as it quickly heads towards its final days when the approaching winter kisses it goodbye. I suppose as we get older goodbyes become a matter of routine. We lose friends, we lose family, professions, and so many other things we usually don’t like thinking about or talking about in mixed company. But to lose a long pine tree branch with a finger-like tip that played with you all summer is unimaginable. Who would believe that such a solitary friendship could exist, and if it did, would such a friendship be legal in any of the fifty states? Last night about eleven o’clock, just before going off to bed, my significant other gently informed me that the crafty tree climbers who had pruned our dead branches that day must have thought they were doing us a favor by also cutting down what they thought was a stray low hanging branch on my pet pine tree. But that couldn’t have been the case, because I usually walked under that branch with my head held high. As far as I could tell, it only bent lower while I was mowing under it. Could it be that the tree was also playing games with the men while they were pruning? Could it be that those men, with all of their experience, didn’t understand the language of trees and had missed an exceptional opportunity? By the time the realization that the branch had been lopped went from my ears and seeped deep down into my heart I was already holding back tears. I suppose when one nears seventy one is allowed to be over-sentimental. But not me, I’ve been sentimental all my life, and that night it seemed to reach its apex. Into the back garden in my bedroom slippers I rushed, turning on all the garden lights on my way, but not so that I could find my way – I could reach that pine tree blindfolded – the lights were blazing to prove this horrendous deed wasn’t possible. As I raced towards the pine tree thoughts of grade school, and Brother Angelo teaching us about how Saint Francis preached not only to people but also to animals, trees, and even rocks, filled my head. That day the boys in my class laughed out loud but I thought that what was said was magnificent. And with that I impulsively yelled out to the pine tree how sorry I was that the men had harmed it; that I should have been watchful; should have been careful that they were being careful! Then, with arms stretched out, I embraced its trunk and shed a tear because I knew our rare and magical play had come to an end.