On our daily walk down Berrendo Drive, Dad and I often stopped to appreciate this beautiful camphor tree in our neighbor’s yard. There’s something almost human about her – so much so that the female pronoun is what springs to mind. Her muscular arms seem to embrace the Hall’s home while her graceful, leaf-laden branches stretch out in welcome. Trees can seem forbidding, or forlorn, or, like this lovely lady, friendly. Upon seeing her, my Dad expressed his admiration by reciting lines from a poem he learned in childhood:
|I THINK that I shall never see|
|A poem lovely as a tree.|
|A tree whose hungry mouth is prest|
|Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;|
|A tree that looks at God all day,||
|And lifts her leafy arms to pray;…|
|— Joyce Kilmer|
Dad had a friend in our backyard, too. As the evenings warmed, we barbequed and dined outside. Dad’s eyes glowed with emotion as he gazed upward at the young redwood tree next door (at left in this photo). I saw that look on Dad’s face many times: awe of creation in all its variety, love of nature. He would mark the tree’s growth, noting that while he could still see the tip from our position beneath the roof of the porch, he would soon have to crane his neck to see where it met the sky.
I’ve always had the feeling of being in a relationship with trees. When I was five, we moved from Honolulu to Seattle after a disastrous couple of years. The ground had faltered beneath me: Dad had nearly died from a massive heart attack, and we lost Nana, my maternal grandmother, the year prior. I often fled to a tree in Roanoke Park, where hours slipped by as I invisibly watched people walk through the park or I curled up and let my imagination loose in lengthy daydreams.
That tree was my refuge and my friend, even as the redwood tree and camphor tree became my father’s companions. They may not have said much, but their reassuring gentle presence was a gift.