At any rate, during late summer, when cherries are dark, round, and purple, raccoons can be heard thrashing around in the leaves. When my now adult son was young, sometimes he’d say, “I couldn’t get a bit of sleep last night because of all the racket those raccoons were making.” In addition to raccoons, birds—sparrows, thrushes, tanagers, and dozens of other species -- nibble the ripe black cherries. For them, it is a veritable paradise buffet. Some years, my good husband used to pick enough for me to make a pie. Alas, these were wild cherries, and so as I prepared them, every single cherry had to be inspected. Cutting into them, produced a juice that left hands and sink purple.
A wild cherry tree can live 30 to 40 years, and according to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, some species live up to 250 years. I have no idea how old our cherry tree is, but over the years, the tree lost some of its mojo. It got hit by lightning; the bark split; we knew the life of the tree was limited. We called “the tree guy,” who pruned off parts of the tree but left the lower section for the birdhouses. He assured us when the back part fell, it would fall “the other way –away from – the house.” Last night amid the storm, the back part, the tall part, indeed did fall away from the house because the storm came pounding in from the east, not the west—a double blessing, I suppose. The tree crashed into the bushes and saplings in the ravine below.
In the morning it was shocking for us to see the broken jagged trunk standing some seven feet with a bright orange-red gash running down to the base. The lower part of the tree is there, the birdhouses are there, the leaves are out and fluttering, but the gashed trunk stands behind all of it. This tree has witnessed history and every season. In summer the tree is messy, dropping twigs and black cherries on the ground, but in spring, the white flowers are a delight. When I see them, I think of E.A. Houseman (1859-1936), the English poet’s “Loveliest of Trees.” He said, “…the cherry now/Is hung with bloom along the bough/…and now of my three score years and ten/Twenty will not come again/And take from seventy spring a score, /It only leaves me fifty more/ And since to look at things in bloom/Fifty springs are little room, /About the woodlands I will go/To see the cherry hung with snow.”
Looking at the gash, I think about the ferocity of nature, the ragged beauty of the broken trunk, and how that which is tall and mighty in life someday will be bought down. In the newspaper, some man wrote about trees in his neighborhood being cut down. He said, “These trees provided shade, absorbed water, increased the property value of neighboring houses, gave refuge to numerous animal populations, and provided the best carbon sink possible to help fight climate change. “ He went on to say the loss of his trees is “a loss of animal life and a loss of aesthetic beautify…a decline in the quality of life.” Losing a portion of our wild black-cherry tree isn’t that momentous, but I will be sorry to see the remainder of this old tree go. Before long, I suppose, I will have to call the “tree-guy.”