Many people in the village of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts were saddened to learn that a road reconstruction project would necessitate the removal of eleven old trees. Although the town will be planting fourteen new trees to replace them, as Shelburne Falls resident Alison Cornish wrote in an editorial for the Greenfield Recorder, coming to terms with the loss of such vital features of a place also invites a mindful way of saying goodbye.
In this year of oh-so-many goodbyes, three of us walked around our town center, gazing up into the canopy of bare-and-just-leafing out branches. We paused at each tree, stroked the bark, wondered aloud about how old this one might be, what it had witnessed in our collective history—what it had endured, and survived. We told stories: “One day, I sat just here, and watched two birds in that tree fall in love.” We marveled at the sculptural shapes of the branches, stark in their darkness against the pale blue sky.
We thanked the trees for providing habitat for small animals. We breathe in what the trees breathe out, and the trees breathe in what we breathe out. We marveled at the trees’ cooling effects and remembered a rushed and steamy day, a moment just too hot to go on, and, finding a bench, right here, under this tree, to sit and let our souls catch up with us.
Realizing what we have taken for granted, what we have failed to see, we wrote messages to the trees, thanking them for what they have given to us. We tied our notes to the signs strung hung around their trunks by the town that ask for input on the species of replacement trees.
There will be straighter, smoother sidewalks. And better, safer water delivery. And new, young, eager-to-grow, appropriately and popularly selected trees. But there is no replacing the gentle giants that stand before us here, now. Gratitude is linked to love, and life. And when what we love is lost, we pause to say goodbye.