It seems natural to consider death and transitions on a full moon Halloween. In the waning weeks of summer, this tree on the bank of the Roanoke River loosened its grip in the rocky soil and let go, now immersed, partly, in the current. It was a sycamore, but more significantly than the name or species, it was for a time thriving as a tree form. The air taken in by the leaves and the nutrients in the soil nourished it enough enable it to grow a stout and solid trunk. I wonder how many other life forms attached, climbed, or perched on its branches? What scurried about its base? How many fish hid in the shadows it cast? How far did its leaves drift in the river, fly in the breezes, how many seeds sprouted perhaps after catching a lift to another region? What nested in its limbs? As the trunk hollowed, what families were birthed in the bosom of its protective trunk?
These and so many other unanswerable ponders, all stemming from one tree, among hundreds, on one bank, in one short stretch of one river.
It stood out to me for years because it had been designated by someone unknown, with a metallic cross, for uncertain yet guessable reasons. At first it seemed an odd mark, but then I recalled hearing from a friend who lived in the not visible homes beyond the abandoned railroad tracks, past the steep cliff, the buffer of woods, and still further the green of the park grass. She had seen an ambulance crew and some police one cold morning haul up a covered body on a gurney from this same bank.
I’ve now floated hundreds of times along this serene section of river through my neighborhood. It’s maybe a mile long. Within this vital and abundantly fertile route, in a short few years there have been at least three human deaths along these banks. Two were young adults my son’s age, in fact, one was the son of friend’s of mine, and the other was a friend of my son. Each of them may have been a suicide. The shaken foundations of families, the painful realities of these lives tragically transitioning, are not lost to me when I float here. How many beings were affected, enriched, touched by those lives?
The old trunk suspended between worlds continues to give, and so I feel, to live. The shock of its loss shook and reassembled the foundations of all growth nearby. Fungi are now making use of its decades of stored minerals and rebirthing. Uprooted and no longer reaching skyward, still it shelters innumerable life forms. As the once rigid structure softens, it dissembles and feeds the soil and renews the land. Some nutrients disperse into the river and are steadily being delivered to other ecosystems. Even the now sideways cross loosens its meaning. The tree has shifted in form yet the energies still robustly affect and endlessly replenish the hallowed cycle of life.
I recently heard from a friend about a young former employee who ended his own life. Another who touched many, was perhaps more valued than he could grasp, and regrettably was compelled to let go... So many unfathomable, heart-wrenching questions. In contrast a few days ago was the first anniversary of the death of a much-beloved octogenarian who was fittingly known as “the Angel of Grandin Village” for his continuously selfless giving ways in our neighborhood. It was also the birthday of my father, who lived to near 90, gone now for nearly a decade. By any standard he lived a life as full and rich as one could live, and was as loving and giving as one could measure. One sapling passes before maturity, others flourished for so many decades, each impacted others directly and indirectly. Our human lives, all life, a mysterious, ongoing cycle, an unanswerable question to honor and celebrate.