The Trees

I stare out my back window at the trees in the yard. Their bark is almost invisible now under a thick blanket of leafy vines—an invasive species, a hostile invader. They are old, like many of the trees around my house, and they have been living there far longer than I. They stand five in a line, twisting high into the air like gnarled, arthritic fingers. The skimpy boughs of dark green pines contrast the bright green leaves of the vines. The trees are at once overgrown and sparse. The vines wrap around their trunks like boa constrictors around their prey. They are dying.

Last year when a bad storm hit, a massive branch—really the size of a tree itself—fell from the neighbor’s yard into ours, crushing the pool filter and part of the garage. My mother loudly foretells that it will happen again, that any one of these days one of our trees will come crashing down, taking something with it. She theorizes; what will it be this time, pool furniture, a car, “god forbid,” she says, “a person?” And so, the trees stand like dominoes anticipating the day some cosmic hand will give them a push. We are powerless to stop it, they aren’t technically our trees, they’re the neighbors, so all we can do is wait.  It’s only a technicality to me, in my memory, they are mine, the consistent vista of my childhood. I’ve watched my home change; I’ve watched the wooden green playset (a million splinters waiting to happen) get dismantled, its former spot dug out and replaced with the blue shimmer of the pool; I’ve watched the decorations go up and go down for graduations, baby showers, family gatherings; I’ve watched my home grow, and I’ve watched it shrink; but, through it all I’ve watched the trees stay the same. Each year maybe some fewer needles and more vines, but in my mind, they’ve stayed the same. Only now that I’m older have I truly realized; they are dying.

A rust-colored carpet of dead needles covers the ground. Big bunches of them clog the filter. Stragglers cling to the dogs’ fur as they rush inside. They’re dying faster now, there seems to be more vine than tree, and each day more blue is visible behind the dark green canopy. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but as I look out the window I know the sight of these balding pines depresses me. When I was a pretentious and angry high-schooler I saw the trees as a metaphor: the vines were the overbearing tendencies of my family, I was the tree struggling against them—suffocating slowly but surely. Now that I’m a pretentious and depressed college student the metaphor has changed. I still am the trees—at least part of me still is. They are a symbol of my childhood. As I played in the backyard that felt so much like my own boundless kingdom, they were the sentinels standing over me, protecting me from the world outside, the serious world, the adult world. And now they’re dying, falling to the ground one day at a time. And so my childhood dies day by day. With each class credit earned, each internship applied for, each rent check signed, I become less and less of a kid, and it terrifies me. I am afraid of my life as a child coming to an end. I am afraid of the encroachment of the real world’s suffocating vines. I am afraid for the day the trees finally fall. But I have no reason to be afraid. When one tree falls another takes its place. Nature is cyclical, death simply makes room for life. When a tree falls in the forest it becomes a home for millions of tiny organisms, it becomes the incubator for more life. And so as my childhood dies it will provide the sustenance for my new life, my life as an adult. Here I am, staring out the window and the trees are still standing tall. One day they will die but for now, they are living.