Because of the power of its metaphor, I have written before about the maple tree that stands next to our apartment building. Nearly three years ago, this tree suffered the loss of many branches and limbs in the fierce winds of a rare September New York City tornado. Indeed, at first the tree appeared so badly damaged that we thought all was lost. Yet the tree surgeons from the city worked tirelessly to save our maple. They spent hours sawing and chipping away at the tree to make sure that its remaining branches were stabilized and that the maple held firm to its roots. The tree seemed scrawny and sickly that first autumn, and we were relieved when it survived a blizzard three months later, and a tropical storm eight months after the blizzard.
Another year passed, and our tree continued to bear the scars of its stormy encounters. Some of its bark had not grown back, and those bare places were pockmarked with tiny holes. We wondered if the tree was hearty enough to survive another winter. Then at the end of October, Hurricane Sandy hit the city. We live far enough inland that we escaped the worst of the ocean’s wrath. Yet the high-pitched winds seemed to howl all night. As we learned about the destruction all across our city, we worried about our tree. Would we find the maple standing? Could the tree sustain more damage? Would it survive this most violent of storms? The maple was located too far from our side of the building, so we could not see it out the window. When I ventured out the day after the storm, there it stood, reaching as ever toward the sky. Other trees on surrounding streets were not so lucky. Even as our neighborhood escaped the brunt of the storm, still more trees had broken free from their roots and fallen dead to the ground.
The long gray winter arrived soon after the hurricane, and spring arrived, cold and hesitant at first. However, even in hesitation, the trees in our neighborhood started to bud and at last to bloom. Our maple seemed to have gained strength in its long hibernation. Thin new branches began growing, facing up toward the sun. Birds found respite in those branches and we awoke to their songs in the early morning. We could not remember the tree, with its amputated limbs and its tentative new growth, ever looking so splendid as it did in early spring.
Also in early spring, I learned that my long search for a new job had ended. Before the end of the summer I would leave New York City for work that I love—2500 miles away. Of all the leave-takings that I anticipate, leaving this tree may be perhaps the most difficult. Yet after so much hardship, the maple thrives and offers all of us a moment to pause in wonder, whether that pause happens in real time, or in cherished memory.
Nature unfolds in ever more mysterious movements, and often enough, if we stay mindful, metaphors appear in everyday life. For the peace this tree offers, I remain grateful for its survival—and for ours.
Susan Naomi Bernstein teaches writing and writes a blog, Beyond the Basics, on writing processes and educational equity, for Bedford Bits.