A lifetime ago, a young married couple carted me to a clearing in their new backyard. I was tall and strong and it took both of them to lift me. As they patted the soil around my roots, settling me into a comfortable hole and giving me plenty of water, they smiled at one another. I knew by planting me, they were thinking about their future.
I grew, and so did their family. When their daughter and two sons were old enough, the father hung a swing from my branches. The mother would stand in my cooling shade, pushing first one child than another. She would sigh longingly as if recalling those days when she, too, could laze away on a summer day.
The daughter would sit under my branches and write stories or sing lovely tunes. Sometimes she’d lie on her back and simply watch the clouds go by. I loved those moments.
She and her two brothers often brought friends over. Children joyously climbed on my strong branches. They even built a treehouse. Those times of secret passwords, playing spy, and sleepovers on warm summer nights in the shelter of my branches made me feel strong and useful.
But years passed, as they do, and the family moved away. There were no more youngsters to swing from my branches, no more secret forts, no more lovely songs. My days were long.
I was hit by lightning which cracked my bark and opened my trunk. Sap oozed from the wound. Biting insects invaded. Months passed. New people moved in and planted fast-growing trees too close to me. One, a showy red maple, blocked out my sunlight. It took the nutrients from my soil and sucked up most of the rainwater. My sap nearly stopped running. I became brittle. Woodpeckers perched on my trunk and branches and pecked for bugs. They left gaping cavities. Then came the day when talk of dangerous, weak branches was followed by the whir of a chainsaw.
The chainsaw hacked away leaving me only two stubs for arms. It was hard to remember how I had been planted with such dreams and plans for the future. Now a shell of the majestic white pine I once was, I felt useless.
Another long, lonely winter arrived, but I withstood it. With the onset of spring, there was a dramatic shift in weather. The wind whipped in from the south. The tall maple that left me in shadows bent and swayed in the gales. A fierce gust snapped off one of its branches. As it crashed to the ground, debris fluttered, showering me. A squirrel’s nest, I realized.
My compact trunk withstood the whipping wind. After it had died down, a round-bellied squirrel scampered about looking for a place to nest. Frantic, it darted here and there. Then it eyed me. When it explored one of my cavities, it purred in contentment.
By nightfall, it had lined a nest with twigs and soft moss. By the next afternoon, three baby squirrels mewed, suckled, and squirmed about safe and secure in my trunk.
I might be old, missing limbs, and filled with holes, but I could still be useful. I could keep this family warm and dry. I would help bring new life into the world. I would help plan for the future.