“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”—John Muir (1838 – 1914) Scotland/USA
Gustavo’s nephew, Luis, methodically hefted the cut branches from the walnut tree, each one twice his substantial width, and unlike Luis, unwieldy. He carried them to his uncle’s truck for the dump run, while Gustavo sawed the biggest pieces into firewood. I don’t know how old Luis is, but I guess it’s somewhere in his late teens and early twenties. It is difficult to judge as he shows little of himself while he is here on alternate Wednesdays with Gustavo. He works hard, and though he will always respond to my “Hola Luis” with a sweet smile, his large square face usually projects solid purpose and little else. He is very strong, never complains, and does whatever Gustavo tells him to do. I noticed today he is wearing a black t-shirt with bright, colorful lettering on its back declaring, “Mexican … Not Latino … Not Hispanic.” I like him immensely.
I’ve been wanting for ages to have the walnut tree seriously topped and trimmed, ever since I found myself receiving my ex-husband’s pellet gun in the mail from him, and using it to shoot at the squirrels making a walnutty scrap and dung mound of my deck. At least once a week, it was necessary to hose down the deck, washing squirrel crap and thousands of pieces of squirrel spit covered walnut crumbs into the mass of ivy at the deck’s back. It felt like release from oppression when the old, wood-pecked grandfather of a walnut tree shut down production for the winter. But it is spring now, almost summer, and it brought me a strong whiff of squirrel terrorism on the horizon.
When Gustavo arrived today to trim Grandfather Walnut, I was struck with a powerful desire to have him go all the way—cut it down to a base for a table, make it gone. “No problem,” he had said, “I can do that,” and he proceeded to do so. For an hour or so, when I glanced out the kitchen window or wandered out onto the deck, Gustavo leaned his high, rickety ladder against the tree and chain-sawed away the top and outer branches. Each fallen piece was the size of a small tree, and there were many covering the deck and the yard as he worked. I lay on the window seat wearing my sunglasses watching, mesmerized by the gradual disappearance of what had been the main element of that part of the yard and the deck there.
Somewhere in this reverie, it came to me that this was a meaningful event in the life of my yard, the piece of earth entrusted to me while I live in this house. I watched more consciously, with respect and affection for what Grandfather Walnut had been and the many, many years, he grew in that spot—for heaven’s sake, the deck was built around him! The idea of using the stump as a surface for barbecue condiments or potted plants suddenly seemed absurd, just wrong. The tree was almost gone now, just two hunks and the round, base.
This base had always interested me. It rises through the hole in the deck, and the tree trunk grows from its middle. Now, I know basically nothing about trees, having long ago discarded any knowledge gleaned from my college botany class—which, by the way, was taught by a malevolent, sexist autocrat who made his wife carry his massive stack of books from lecture hall to classroom, from classroom to office. The old Grand Master of Chlorophyll could have turned me off to the plant kingdom for life.
The point is, it began to dawn on me that Grandfather Walnut was trimmed as far as was decent, and the two sections of trunk that were left flowed out elegantly from the textured base. The balance among the three elements looked sculptural and perfect. I went out to Gustavo and told him what I’d been thinking. He is a thoughtful, sensitive man, despite his single-mindedness with a chain saw, and he agreed solemnly that no more cutting should be done. We stood together and admired what remained of the tree, now forever known as Grandfather Walnut. We chatted a bit about whether to strip the bark and sand and polish him, wrap him in something to hang plants from, and that sort of thing.
It was an excellent moment for which I am grateful. It is so easy to forget to honor Mother Earth and the extraordinary life that grows from within her. Grandfather Walnut’s statuesque incarnation will, starting today, be sacred to me.