The garden that so inspired me in the spring is overrun by late summer weeds. Rains came late to our valley and have transformed the dried crust of soil I worried over in July into a verdant bed sprouting every weed known to man — plus a few tomatoes, peppers, onions, green beans and sunflowers.
As I harvest the crop which tomorrow will become jars of salsa, I can’t help but notice that something is missing. Looking over my shoulder, I remember that for the second year, I work at this task without the companionship of our ancient cherry tree. The beautiful, gnarled, seeping tree that stood guard over my garden all of the 20 years we’ve lived here finally succumbed to the rot that was eating her from within and, on a blustery fall day, she was taken down by a gust of wind.
We knew it was coming. Talk of cutting down the cherry tree came at the kitchen table early that spring. Rot was weakening her trunk and there was a danger that she would fall on the nearby barn. But I begged my husband for one more summer and, as I tilled and planted the garden, I gratefully watched her awaken from her winter slumber.
The final season of her fruit-bearing was her finest. That last spring, the cherry tree boasted a glorious crown of blossoms. She fairly shimmered in the springtime sunshine. As the blooms faded and dropped, the cherries appeared and seemed to just keep coming, creating a canopy of red, green and brown over our heads.
The neighbor girls raided her branches, harvesting enough for their mother to make a tart. My teenaged sons climbed high to snatch fruit from swooping birds as I slipped handfuls into a bucket for preserving. The cherries were especially sweet that summer — or at least that’s how I remember them now. I horded a few bags of the frozen maroon orbs and we savored them in a Christmas pie.
The cherry tree’s final gift to us that year were logs to fuel our winter fire. But on this golden evening, I recall other gifts found in her branches.
Memories of sweet scents carried on the spring breeze as I walked under her canopy or leaned against her rain-drenched trunk.
. . . .of laughing children, climbing high on limbs wrapped in green
. . . . of stolen moments resting at the end of the day on the old bench that rested at her roots
. . . .of my little boys swinging high from the tire secured by a rope looped over her strongest branch.
. . . .visions of snowy white blossoms pressed against the blue sky.
When age and disease weakened the cherry tree and created a hollow in her middle, she still stood strong, until the winds of autumn whirled around her and she trembled then split with a crack, dropped to one knee. It was shocking to see her broken limbs and split trunk, leaves caught in the midst of their fall-turning rippling in the gusts that laid her down.
For several weeks, we were faced daily with her crippled form, as half her branches reached for the clouds while the other half sprawled across my garden. The red barns that had provided her backdrop towered starkly, as if standing watch over the dying tree. It was clear we would have to finish the job, so my husband and youngest took to the task.
It strikes me that our human lives may have something in common with that dying cherry tree. Age and even the trial of disease (soul or body) can sometimes produce the sweetest fruit in us. I know people like that. While their hearts may be broken and their bodies failing, they continue producing fruit.
Acts of kindness.
Work that is worthwhile.
Wisdom gained from experience.
Art that has value.
Sometimes it is the finest fruit of their lives.
Is this because they are keenly aware that time is short? Or is it because, in their weakness, they allow the Lord’s grace and provision to shine and to cover their own shortcomings?
So today, as I reflect on the life of that cherry tree, I think also of those who move through the autumn of their lives with grace and joy.
And I decide that this autumn, I will plant another cherry tree.