Trees

My daddy says the trees sound like the ocean. People listen to shells tell them the song of waves and wind. But the tall trees are free to say what they will. In the morning, they whisper silently, but at night the wind is lonely and sings through them about the ocean: A lifetime without an ocean is a lifetime without music. The song is a hymn, a symphony, a love ballad. The sun bows away behind the stately orchestra, slipping behind the horizon quietly.

Morning tastes cold and unbearably sweet, and no person awake can ignore the holiness of sunrises. At the top of the hill, the evergreens stand up on their tiptoes, competing for the clouds. In the valley, Douglas firs and cedars march across the hills in green uniforms. Deer Park Road passes in a blur of cold concrete and gray-green shrubs until a cut in the forest shows the valley brimming with white fog as thick as cappuccino foam.

The fog swirls around the prickly evergreens like the tide, drawn by an unseen yearning to the moon. If I squint my eyes, the fog spreads out like a lake with miles of shoreline. The bank of forest is steep, and fingers of fog lap at the edges of the hill. Far across the valley, the sun sends search beams through the blanket to the evergreens. One by one, the trees heed the call, saluting the daylight and kissing the fog goodbye, for now.

In Washington, my daddy cut down my favorite fir tree in the back yard, the backdrop to thousands of jungle expeditions and Indian powwows, because it tried to lean tiredly against the house. He drove spikes deep into the crusty bark and climbed them like a ladder. All afternoon, the chainsaw yelled and the branches hit the ground with a soft moan. Daddy stacked the arms and legs of the fir tree to wait in a neat pile for their cremation come winter.

The next day, the man who lived on the corner and grew rhododendrons tapped on the kitchen door. He handed my mama a wooden salad bowl freshly carved and decorated with dark brown swirls and loops, the marks of years in a tree’s life. It smelled sweet and secret, full of spices and memories of many years of standing in our back yard, my fir tree.

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