Goodbye to a Great Beauty

Phoebe H. Dishman

April 23, 2021

She was the spirit of spring. She was my summer shade, my morning song. She was more than a tree to me.

She had that certain something. Centerpiece of our small back yard, she was a lacebark elm, arms outflung in wide embrace, to the fullness of her height.

Springtime dropped over those arms a shimmering frock of palest green, by which she captured hearts as surely as any Southern belle.

In summer her greenery darkened. Her trunk and branches swelled with vitality, flinging off gray curls of bark to reveal mahogany smoothness beneath.

In the fall she set seeds; they flew from her hands on brown-paper wings.

In winter she composed herself to rest. Her poise was a dancer’s, balanced, strong, her inclined stillness enlivened by a supple turn where she widened to meet the earth. A bonsai master could not have posed her more charmingly.

Trouble was, as my beauty grew she interfered with power lines. The tree crews, having been threatened in other yards, were grateful for my stoic silence as they worked. After their most recent visit I wrote,

“My beautiful, stricken tree. In spite of her proven resilience to pruning, ice storms, and hurricanes, I’m a little uneasy about her health. Next time my yard chores took me to her vicinity, I put down my tools, put my cheek against her bark, and held her. How silly. But how warm I found her, how fragrant, how solid, how full of life. I had thought to offer comfort. It was she who comforted me.”

She soldiered on, as best she could, kept me company through the long months of 2020. Mid February 2021, just as she was greening for spring, there came a killing freeze. With shock then grief I’ve watched what it did to her. Did I think such a Great Beauty would last forever, because she had so far? I was wrong.

Next week a kind man will come and take her. To every thing, a season. And a time to every purpose under heaven. The author of Ecclesiastes is correct. So is my breaking heart.

So, come with me, my heart, to where a Great Beauty stands for now. Put your hands on her ravaged bark. Put your arms around forty years of beauty, shade, and joy. Whisper my bereavement. I adored her. Yes, I adored a tree.