Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sermon at a Requiem for an Elm Tree

This is a requiem for an elm tree in Park Slope.
It was such a grand tree, one of two great elm trees on Third Street. This is the one near Prospect Park West. I think the house behind contains a couple famous writers, but of the history of love I am an amateur. Ha.
I noticed last August how early it had lost its leaves. A neighbor said it did that every year, but I only half believed him, and I worried about the tree. Now I guess we know that it had been dying for a while.
This spring it barely budded at all. And so they came to take it down. Today, Thursday.
The tree surgeon was up in his bucket when I got there, but he asked me not to take his picture. As they lowered him I thought of a preacher in an old high pulpit, not least because of how loudly and confidently he was declaiming to all the people standing round, both workers and watchers. He announced that the tree had not died from Dutch elm disease. He said it died from what "someday will happen to me, and to you, and to you, and to you, and to every other living thing: old age." He knows a lot more about trees then I do, but I don't believe it died from old age. I wonder how much of what I say my parishioners do not believe?
Thank you tree, for the wonderful beauty you gave us while you lived. Thank you God for this tree. The birds thank you, and so do the bugs.
My older brother and I became tree lovers early on. As kids we spent our time in trees, and because we had the biggest backyard in our section of Bedford-Stuyvesant (we lived in a parsonage) all our friends and playmates were in our trees as well.
We were pre-teens when we first read The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien only quickened and increased our love of trees. (One of the awful things about those movies is how little comes through of Tolkien's love of trees and flowers and birds and food. And language and poetry.) We feel like trees have personalities. There are some trees in Brooklyn I think of as my friends.
My brother especially loved elm trees. We grieved that so many had died of Dutch Elm Disease. (It's originally from Asia, but it got its name from its earlier victims in the Netherlands.) Right in the middle of downtown Sayville, Long Island, there was a majestic elm that must have been resistant, and its seedlings were growing in all the alleys and behind the stores. We transplanted two of them in our yard. They grew wonderfully. After we moved away from there, one of them was cut down, but the other one still thrives, and you can see it on Google Earth.
This elm on Third Street was five stories tall. Its cloven trunk was wonderfully vertical, in the manner of a deep forest tree. Urban elms more typically have great spreading limbs, torquing and twisting like great dancers in their places.
Dona eis requiem.
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.


Anonymous said...

lovely entry dad. did you take the pictures? the fourth picture is really good.
love anni

Old First said...

Thank you. Yes, I took those photos with my Palmpilot!
I had no idea it would turn out nice.