The other night my cousin Donna posted a sunset photo on Face book, with a note: "Rest in Peace, sweet tree. Thanks for all the years of modeling for me as the sun set and the moon rose behind you. I was heartbroken to come home and see you floating in the Sound from these southern winds and southern high tide."
I recognized that tree. Donna lives amid the waters of seashore, sound and river in her coastal Carolina neighborhood, and five years ago we walked together to a sheltered beach, and she introduced me to that tree. It was clear to me the "snag"---(our name for a dead or dying tree)---had become a landmark in her daily walks. Its feet were rooted in the waters of her beloved Sound, its profile dark against a vibrant sky. She never failed to photograph it, and through her Face book page she shared it.
We saw it in all seasons...in all sorts of weather; in mornings, afternoons and evenings... in moonlight, sunlight, sunrise, sundown... in rain and even an unusual southern snowfall ... Now the tree is gone. Taken down beneath the waters, out of sight. Some people may not understand my cousin's sadness. But I definitely do.
I live in a valley in northeast Ohio, far from her lovely Carolina waters. My home is tucked among the trees. They grow close around me, as if I'm living in a tree house.
I confess, when Bob and I first settled here in 1993, it took awhile for me to appreciate what I saw at first as "the unkempt nature of some areas of our creek-fed bottom land." Only later would I realize that weathered trees and logs were more than litter that might need cleaning up. They serve some worthy purposes---a spot for me to sit and contemplate; a bench for man and wife to rest upon while walking in the woodland; a host to beautiful exotic types of fungi...
As for the locust snag that stood just feet away outside our bedroom window---that was something else again. "Take it down," I urged my husband. "It's apt to fall against the house!" Country-born and reared, he told me firmly that the snag would fall when it was ready--and then would fall AWAY from us into the woods.
For a time, I eyed that dead tree apprehensively. Soon I gained appreciation for its driftwood-polished surface. The sun-and-shadow of the day drew endless patterns on it's silken surface. At night the moonlight turned its skin to glowing honey. The snag was now a work of art. I surprised myself when I wrote in my journal that I loved that snag and wanted it to stay.
Finally, in a deep-snow winter, the snag fell quietly upon the forest floor, exactly where my husband always said it would. It disintegrated slowly, mixing with the leaves and soil on the forest floor and becoming part of nature. I missed the comfort of its presence at my bedroom window, and I still do.
But its loss did open up a space for other trees and shrubs that drew many kinds of birds we hadn't seen before. They nested, sang and fluttered there among the branches. Every morning through our bedroom windows, we could wake up to the sight and sound of all those birds that seemed to be performing solely for our eyes and ears.
For my cousin (and others like us who find happiness in nature) I share some words from a wildlife officer who listened to my story about the snag. He smiled and told me that my husband's defense of that snag had demonstrated inborn wildlife wisdom.
"Dead wood brings new life," he said. He explained that trees can actually provide more habitats for wildlife dead than when they are alive. Snags are important for wildlife. When they fall, birds and small mammals and other wildlife use them for nests, nurseries, storage areas, foraging, roosting, and perching. Along streams and shorelines, snags eventually may fall into the water, as Donna's did. Even then, they add important woody debris to aquatic habitat.
I hope that brings some comfort to you, Cousin Donna. I herein post your photo of your tree. I wish I had a photo of my own lost tree, but I never photographed it. I guess I didn't know how much I'd miss it, until it was no longer there.