© 2003 by K Pelle
Synopsis: A tribute, in remembrance of one who walked before.
The old lady frowned deeply at the raucous noise of the chain saw. Then she watched sadly as the giant fir tree began to topple, creaking, snapping, rushing faster, and faster, then smashing into smaller trees and bushes to finally crash to the ground. The sentinel that had stood on the hill above her home was gone. Now there was a gaping hole in her oft remembered skyline. Another unwelcome change in the life of one who had seen so many changes. All her life that tree had stood there, come sun or rain, wind or weather, but in only moments, it was gone. There would be no more picnics beneath its spreading branches, no more quiet place to rest after the steep walk to the top of the hill, no more weather vane to watch from her window to see what the day would be like. For years she had used the old tree for her own purposes, never supposing that one day it would no longer be there.
As long as she could remember, the fir had stood tall and strong on the crest of the hill, across from her home. In fact one of her first memories was standing in the lee of the fir with her father, as the wind blew snow around them. They had gone out to get a Christmas tree for her family and her father had taken her to the top of the hill to "his" tree, for near it grew many smaller trees that were suitable as Christmas trees. She had been so young and her legs had been so short that he had carried her through the deepest of the snow drifts, but even then she had been independent, she had insisted on walking as much as possible. She remembered the solid strong feeling of the tree behind her, and at the same time she remembered the smell of her father's pipe and the deep rasping sound of his voice.
The fir had become "their" tree and later, after her father had died, it had become "her" tree. It was under the fir that she had felt the first flushes of romance, and it was beneath its shelter where the man who had later become her husband had first kissed her. While she hadn't given him the boon of her virginity beneath its spreading branches, she was almost certain that her fourth child had been conceived there. A child conceived in loving ardour as she bid her husband farewell to go and fight in the war that had taken his life. It was beneath that tree where she had mourned that loving man after receiving the stark telegram that told of his death. Then after her husbands body had been returned from that distant shore and been buried in the local graveyard, she had once more retreated to "her" tree. She had felt the need to weep in memory of the love they'd had and the life that had been cut short, for it was under the fir that she had habitually gone to seek calm and solace when she felt troubled.
In fact, no matter what her mood, she had found that she relaxed during her times spent in the shade of the old fir's branches. She had often dozed in its shade while the breeze whispered above and many were the times she had lay back and watched the antics of the ravens that had nested in the heights of the tree, often seeing the young ravens as they first ventured forth in flight. She had taken her children and her children's children to play in the deep bed of needles at the fir's base. There they had sat and relaxed, often gazing out over the community that had grown up at the base of the hill. It had been several months since she had felt either well or strong enough to climb the hill to "her" tree and now she knew that she could never make the trip again. She frowned then and heaved a deep sigh, knowing her view would never be the same, yet acknowleging that the loss of the tree was only one more change in her life.
A freak windstorm had spelled the death knell of the old fir, whipping and twisting its brittle old trunk so badly that the tree had split. It had been pronounced a danger to anyone nearing it and now her grandson had felled it in moments, a living thing that had taken decades, if not centuries to grow, was now nothing more than uncut firewood.
Slowly she turned from the kitchen window, to hobble over and settle down in her favourite chair. She leaned back, remembering the tree and all that it had meant to her over the years and as she relaxed, she closed her eyes.
While she dozed, she dreamed of days gone by, of people that she had loved and been loved by. She dreamed of children, who were now grown and gone on to live lives of their own. She dreamed of friends and neighbours, of their lives and deaths, and as she leaned back dreaming, suddenly she felt a pain deep in her chest. A sudden pain that grew and grew, then suddenly was gone. One last shuddering ancient breath and then she relaxed, to move no more.
The old gravedigger leaned against his shovel handle near the edge of the mound of fresh soil. He knew that his son felt he was being an emotional old fool. There was no reason to dig the grave himself. His son would gladly have dug the grave with a tractor-mounted back-hoe, or since his father had insisted that it had to be dug by hand, he would have had him hire a labourer to dig the old lady's grave. Instead the stubborn old man felt that he should do the job himself. He had known the old lady since he was a boy and he felt that she deserved to be buried as she had lived, simply and with dignity. She had been an island of stability in a world of change.
Thoughtfully he went back to work and finished off the grave, all edges true and straight and all done with the care that the old man felt the old lady's last resting place deserved. He carefully cleaned up a few clumps of soil that hadn't settled on the pile of freshly sug soil exactly as he wished and glanced around to make sure everything was as neat as he could make it. Then, in a somber mood, he shouldered his shovel and walked slowly home.
Days later that same old gravedgger stood alongside his son and family at the funeral. Theirs was but one family amidst a crowd of others who filled the small church and spilled into the churchyard as friends, neighbours and family said goodbye to the old grandam. They stood with children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of the oldtimer, recalling memories and celebrating the life she had lived, a woman who had seen and done so much while being loved by so many.
The raven circled slowly, riding on the breeze that crested the hill. He was old as ravens go, with feathers still somewhat ragged from a recent molt which made him seem even older. Suddenly he swooped down to investigate, the tree where he and his mate had built their nest each year was gone. Not that he would feel the urge to nest again, he was too old now and his mate had died in one of last winter's frigid storms. He landed in the tangle of branches of the old fir. There he hopped and fluttered from branch to branch, around the ruins of the old nest. It was almost as if he were remembering the times he had spent there and he seemed to survey the wreckage around him in disgust. Abruptly he fluttered to the ground and in seeming petulance, he pecked and twisted at a cone on one branch of the old fir. He finally managed to tear it free and tossed it in the air, to pounce and toss it once again.
He seemed to play a game with the fir cone, tossing it, only to pounce and snatch it up once more. The game escalated until he was carrying the cone to a height and dropping it on the rocks below in the same way that he had treated acorns when he harvested them in the fall. His antics carried him to the edge of the graveyard where suddenly he spotted a bright pebble lying on a mound of fresh earth. He swooped down and in an instant he had dropped the fir cone in trade for the bauble and had flown off with his new trinket, his game forgotten in the avarice of his newly found treasure.
The raven had scarcely taken wing before the funeral procession began to climb the small hill toward the graveyard, in fact the driver of the hearse noted the bird's flight and thought he was fleeing the intrusion of the mourners. By late that evening the grave was refilled. A headstone would come later, but even then the old woman was at rest, once more at the side of the man she had loved and married.
Winter came, then the spring, and so through the seasons. And the following winter's first snow gently wafted a protective blanket around a tiny fir seedling that grew at the foot of the old lady's grave.