I stood, almost scratching my head, as I gazed up into the old walnut tree. It is, indeed, a beautiful tree due to its age and tenacity. Growing right beside an alley that sees too much traffic and hanging over the rear of my music store, it has had more than its share of hardship. In spite of the abuse and neglect, it stands tall and drops a copious crop of black walnuts to the ground below it each fall.
I scratch my head because walnut trees are not known for their full, green foilage. Their leaves are the first to drop in the autumn and the last to appear in the spring, merely a filmy layer to give the impression of a covering for the naked old giant. The London Plane tree at the other side of the property would laugh itself silly, had it the ability to do so, at the pitiful showing this walnut tree normally makes each year. Not only is the covering barely adequate, but the size of the leaves would be dwarfed by any the tall and stately Plane tree possesses.
Not this year.
I am astounded at the display of greenery covering the branches of the elder statesman in my yard. Never have I seen it so resplendent. Huge leaves hang from every surface, creating a beautiful sight and a wonderful shade for any passersby.
What has happened?
My mind wanders.
You knew it would.
I remember another similar tree in the city in which I spent my youth. The old hackberry tree was just as stately and tall at one time as the walnut tree. It was a wonderful climbing tree, just the confederate a young dreamer needed in his days of coming of age. To climb the limbs of the old gnarled tree was an easy task, even while toting a book in my back pocket. Hours later, having traveled to a far off land and a long ago time and back again, this young man would descend reluctantly to the ground, and then only because dark and supper were at hand.
A hurricane, of which I have spoken before, pushed the entire tree onto its side one fall. The incident left the roots firmly attached in the earth still, so we let our old friend live out its days reclining against the ground.
It too, was a tree with an unusual covering, rendering it amazingly capable of shading the ground below. You may also remember a story I shared previously of the beloved morning glory my Mom had tended and coaxed up into the tree over a period of many years.
The morning glory met an untimely end. At my hands. That, however, was a story for another day.
When the morning glory was still in good health, it lent its support to the hackberry tree, sending out tendrils and vines to cover the branches with huge green leaves and, in their season, beautiful purple blossoms, new every morning. We climbed into the branches of the old tree, unafraid of anything, plucking the blossoms at will to put in a shallow glass dish on the dining room table.
No one objected. There would be more tomorrow.
New blossoms every day.
Suddenly, I am back in the present, gazing suspiciously at the too beautiful tree.
I walk closer. Something is not right here.
My skin begins to tingle.
I know those leaves! They are most definitely not walnut leaves.
All at once, two things appear to me at the same instant. Several huge vines are growing up from the ground, attaching themselves to the trunk and winding up out of sight on the branches above. But, before I foolishly reach out to touch the vines, I also see the pattern of the leaves.
Leaves of three.
Poison ivy. Covering the entire tree.
Beautiful? Well yes, but it is a deadly beauty.
Poison ivy does not, to my knowledge, produce a blossom worth description, but even if it did, I would not venture into that tree to pluck the most beautiful flower that could be found there. There is not a spot on the trunk or branches above upon which I want to lay my hand.
It is in the nature of poison ivy that, even should the huge vines be removed and the leaves be allowed to shrivel and crumble off, the tree will remain unapproachable for seasons to come. There are even some who suggest that the poisonous vines cannot ever be rooted out.
Time will tell.
I said that my skin tingled while I stood beneath the tree and discovered the deadly beauty thereof.
The hair on the back of my neck is standing again now, as the lesson of the vines becomes all too clear to me.
I am aging. A recent birthday has once again reminded me that this world spins too fast and the days fly away too soon. The roots of the tree have long since been sent down into the soil, the Source of life chosen and made known.
But, what of the covering? What of the vines that have been allowed to take root nearby and lend their aid? Choices have been made and are being made. The reality is that what we see as beautiful and even comfortable can actually be poisonous.
Too often, we have seen this evidenced in those from whose lives we anticipated great things and strong finishes. I know of a number of famous examples whose exteriors were shown to be toxic, beautiful to look at, but treacherous to all who are touched by their lives. The world is anxious to expose the toxins, to point fingers at the departed trees, and dismiss every facet of their existence.
I have also become aware in recent days of others, not famous at all, who have done the same thing. Long and powerful lives of honorable service are slowly being choked out by poisonous vines which have been allowed to spring up and entertwine themselves with the trunk and branches. Seemingly minor and insignificant choices are rapidly leading to catastrophic endings.
Can they recover? I believe it is still possible.
Time will tell.
I reminded you of the morning glory earlier. Do you know that before I unwittingly did that vine in, it was covering a tree which was mostly dead? Trees, alas, are not created to recline and cannot live forever in that position. But, even despite the decay and decline of the tree itself, the covering more than made up for the old giant’s lack of leaves and rotting branches.
The leaves of the morning glory thrived and covered a multitude of faults in the tree underneath.
And still, every day, the blossoms came–purple and glorious.
New every morning.
Remind you of anything?
“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.”
(Lamentations 3:22,23 ~ KJV)
“The perception of beauty is a moral test.”
(Henry David Thoureau ~ American essayist/philosopher ~ 1817-1862)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.
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