I met my tree in a rooming house. Only a few lone plants and a nice easy chair remained in my neighbor Linda’s down stairs apartment. Linda was moving out and was just wondering what to do with this detritus of her life on Brewer Street, when I came in to help her with last minute moving efforts.
First she tried to pawn the chair off on me. As much as I’d have loved it, there was no room for it in my tiny room on the third floor. Ellen, who had the room beside mine, admired aloud the tree standing in the corner. It was a lush green and about five feet tall. Linda said her mother bought the tree when she was little, which would make it at least 25 years old. Ellen was enchanted.. She carted the tree up to her room. It had a three-legged wooden pot stand back then too; making it tower over me when Linda set it down in her room. It was nearly as wide as that easy chair I’d refused. Ellen’s room, which was on the north side of the house, looked a bit overwhelmed by the tree, but Ellen was grinning and checked to see if it needed water. She was so excited that it did. She ran to grab a glass full and dumped water in the pot with ceremony. She rubbed the leaves admiringly and hugged it gently, promising it would have a good home. I couldn’t bear to burst her bubble, but I knew the tree wouldn’t do well in her room. It was simply too dark. Two weeks later, she was begging it a new home with me. I agreed, but only if it could scoot back into her room when my son visited. I found it a nice spot right in front of my window and sat down to enjoy the lovely green reflections it cast into the room. My roommate visited it regularly and it visited her regularly too so we were all happy with the arrangement for the balance of that year, which I think was 1989.
As the winter passed, Ellen realized she wasn’t happy living in Maine. The following spring, she moved back to Alabama, bestowing the beloved tree upon me full time officially. I was about 25 years old. I was a poor single mom. I had picked this rooming house right after splitting with my son’s father. It seemed a safe place to be while I regrouped. I was grateful for Ellen’s cheerful presence and I missed her when she left. It wasn’t long before living among dour single men wasn’t really comfortable any more. I moved too a few months later.
The tree and I hunted apartments often in the next few years. Its just not easy to be a single mom who can only afford a place to live with roommates. We generally managed to find a window with good strong sun early in the morning. We both needed it, you see. It seemed to thrive no matter what, and I was grateful for its company when my son wasn’t home with me. It even lived through my son tossing balls around the room and breaking off stems. As the years passed, life changed of course. My new husband and I moved in together. It was a third floor apartment and really quite tiring to move into. He ended up dumping it out of its too-small pot and dropping it down the stairs when we were moving in together. We carefully re-potted it and though it looked pretty sorry and sad, it survived. I found a lovely brass urn at a lawn sale to hide its new and bigger, but quite ugly pot. The brass urn was generous in size. It looked elegant despite its mishap and loosing a few branches. Over the next year, it thrived in the bright sunny apartment we had found to live.
One day, as so often happens for folks, I had what I thought was a very erudite moment and decided that cutting down trees for Christmas was simply not right in the face of global warming. The tree became my “Charlie Brown tree.” It looked ridiculous, but I loved my tree, so naturally I thought it was cute. The only trouble was, my favorite Christmas ornaments were too big and heavy for it. It’s a good thing I had a box of wispy colorful ornaments to bedeck my favorite potted tree with instead. I missed my large ornaments and the scent of evergreen for my Yule tidings though. The following Winter Solstice I got another fresh evergreen tree. I felt guilty for abandoning my favorite potted tree like that. I thought I’d insulted its lack of stem virility and evergreen scent, so I hung it with a little dream catcher and left it on year round as a talisman against bad dreams. It’s very light weight, you see. In any case, the tree still wears that dream catcher to date and I finally out grew having any kind of holiday tree at all.
A few years later, in the fall, we three humans, our beloved tree, our cat and parrot moved again. We were sick of the city. So sick, we took the first place we could afford in the country; forgetting all about proper light for our beloved tree or even me. Our new place was charming and adequate, but it did not, alas, have a window facing strong sunlight. My tree gradually began to die over that winter. By the following February, almost nothing was left of it. I was heart-broken. The tree had been with me about a decade by then. Nevertheless it was surviving. The breaking point alas, was having a helpful little boy thinking it looked sad and that the solution was copious amounts of water. It got sick “feet” as a result. I was so sad. I just knew it was going to die!
Seeing how very attached to it I was, my husband put his magical green-thumb to work and put a bread bag of potting soil along the trunk of the last healthy stem. He watered it carefully and the original roots for a month and moved it near to the grow lights for his spring tomato seedlings. I wrung my hands over it and hoped and prayed.
Surprisingly, it rooted along its trunk, so my husband sawed off the lone living branch below the new root-ball and we plunked it back into its newly sanitized pot and its old brass urn. I thought it looked like a baby in its mother’s high heels, but I refrained from saying so aloud. Slowly, slowly, it grew. It didn’t have the vitality it had when it was in its younger incarnation. It certainly showed the scars of its life. About once a month we got a new shoot though, so within a few years, we had a stubby tree that again looked like a sapling in a nice sized pot. It seemed healthy and happy again. It became resilient again too once we had moved to a new and sunnier place to live. It even tolerated my naughty step daughter pouring a can of soda in it once. I stopped her before much more than a table-spoon went in it thankfully. It’s a tenacious plant, you see. I began to think of it as a survivor and to find it inspiring. When life got tough, I would sit beside it and meditate on how my precious tree kept on living and thriving despite all odds and would think I could too.
Eventually, my husband and I divorced and I moved to Vermont. For a few years, not one new green stem grew on that tree. It and I drifted through life. Not really growing, not really thriving either, but still alive and in a dormant state while we rested together. We were trying to figure out what components made up a truly happy life, I guess. Sometimes you know and you struggle, but the growth doesn’t show on the outside. Well I finally moved in with a woman who became a cherished friend. Together we created a very happy home. The tree and I had a picture window in our new bedroom and the rest of the house was pretty nice too. In this good home, we began to grow again. A few shoots here, a few there…but slowly…slowly.
A couple of years ago, I moved in with Paul, a new friend. I put the tree in a window with warm early morning sunlight. It continued its slow growth there. In time, I moved it down stairs to the first floor of this house I share with Paul. Both of us have more sunlight all summer because we’d come down out of the canopy of the huge maple trees that thrive in our yard. Since moving to this latest morning sunshine home its grown about 20 new stems and grown six inches. We are both very happy here.
Recently, however, I began to feel a little poorly…I’ve been to the doc and I’m on the mend. I’m one part shy of a full set of parts, but what’s left works pretty good.
Yesterday I sat down beside my beloved old tree. The stronger March sun felt warm and sweet on my cheek. I thought how we are about the same age. It made me smile. I found myself leaning into my tree and thinking how much history we have together; how good it is to have this silent companion bear witness to my life. That’s when I noticed it’s not feeling so good. Its got spots. Do you suppose its got teenage blemishes? I had to learn what to do about it. So I posted some photos of my beloved tree on Facebook, calling upon the wisdom of green-thumbs everywhere (well not really everywhere, just where my friends are) to tell me how to doctor it.
That’s when I discovered my tree’s true name; “Schefflera.” There you see it in the picture above. It’s beautiful to me despite its spots and its scars. It’s always been known by this anonymous moniker “tree,” but it’s so nice to know it by some other name. Then again, Schefflera is a bit too fancy for my humble tree. Me and the tree had a chat. We’ve decided to settle on Shef. And that it needs a new pot. It hasn’t had one since way back when. It has a knot instead of a ball for a root system. I wonder how it will do with more room for its feet? I wonder too how it will do when I am living in an R.V.? Will it still love our life together? I sure hope so.