I am here.
I will not leave, because I cannot leave.
I have always been here. My roots are here.
When you walk by, you hardly notice me. But I always see you.
I cannot look away.
There was a time, a long while back, when you would grab my arm and hold me, and I held you up. You trusted me.
Now, though, you walk by and hardly notice me.
Except when you bring out your dog for some fresh air.
And I am here for your dog, too, because being here for your dog means that I am here for you, too.
If I could speak, I would recommend a visit to the veterinarian. If I could run, I would hide on the rooftop whenever you bring your dog my way. He scares me. He digs at the ground beneath me, and it’s unsettling. He sprays on me, and it’s unnerving.
But there are times when I do not wish for legs, for running would only take me further away from you.
There are moments when I am reminded of how much I mean to you, and how much you mean to me. Such as when you lean against me while you speak on the phone with your mother who lives many miles away. You tell her about your job, the one you left last week. You tell her about the woman you love who doesn’t love you back, and you pull the phone from your face to cry, silently, but I can feel your breathing begin to stutter. You hold the phone down by your side, as though your mother cannot hear you.
But she is a mother, and mothers always hear your cry, for they cry, too.
My Mother often cries.
You then pace around me, put your phone into your pocket. You kick up the dirt on the ground so that it dusts up around me. And you talk to yourself. You wonder what to do, why your situation is the way it is. I want to reach down to hold you up, like I used to do many years ago, but of course you have grown too old to be in need of such comfort.
Around this time, I realize your dog has not been outside with you for many days. You walk up to me on your own, and you pace, and you look at the ground. The dirt is freshly packed, the grass bare in front of me. There is a stone, now, above the dirt. It’s leaning to the side, and it even falls against me. You straighten the stone and pack down the dirt with your bare hands.
I hold the Sun out of your eyes, and yet still you have tears. I still try, leaning and stretching with all of my leaves, all of my branches. The leaves begin to fall around you, so much that the next time you are outside you have to sweep away the blanket of leaves from the mound of dirt in front of the stone.
You haven’t been outside for weeks, and I have missed you.
Your hair is longer, and your clothing has grown heavier. Where you used to wear shorts, you now have pants and boots. I attempt again to keep the Sun from your face but my branches are bare. You don’t seem to mind.
You look up towards the Sun, willing it to be brighter, or closer, as though the light will rejuvenate your soul and you want the Sun to realize this.
So I let draw out the Sun with some secret whispers, gifted to me by my Mother. The Sun’s light shines through the clouds, and between my thinning branches. The last leaf has fallen but I am not embarrassed to be bare. I want everyone to know, I want you to know, how fragile my bones are. My trunk is knotted and gnarled, but there is still room to sit, and places for leaves to grow.
I invite you to take a seat but you must have missed the invitation, for you are now in your car, and driving away.
The next time I see you, you are swiping the layer of ice and snow off your car. The white powdery flakes waft into the air and are quickly blown in my direction, adding to the thick layer already weighing down my emaciated branches. I would give my last root for more of that sunshine, but I have forgotten my Mother’s secret words to coax the Sun out of hiding. When I look to the skies there is nothing but clouds, gray and muted, stretching for miles.
The stone at the head of the mound of dirt near my base has fallen, and you run to turn it right-side up, but it won’t stay. I can see you are frustrated, because there are puffs of air, some spittle as you shout at the stone and the dirt. But you are not angry, you are upset. And sad. The ground is too hard and full of ice to allow the stone to be set upright, and now more flakes are falling from the muted sky. So you take the stone and lean it against me.
I do not let it fall.
I WILL NOT let it fall.
It is an important stone. It is important to you, and you are important to me.
You back away slowly, and the invisible weight that was on your shoulders leaps off of you. You don’t look at me, but you stare at the stone. Then you drive away, and I pull all of my might together to hold up the stone against the wind and the snow that keeps falling, eventually burying the stone .
And when that snow has melted, the stone is still standing. But you do not reappear.
I begin to wonder if you have moved on . You drove away leaving the stone in my care, and I will not let you down. Nor will I allow any harm to come to what is buried at my feet for as long as I can stand on this earth.
My leaves are filling in, more plentiful than last year. I have granted brief residency to a woodpecker, who tickles me many days in a row until he finds a new spot, a new friend to play with. When he leaves I do not regret our time together, but I am grateful for the reprieve.
I make sure the stone is still upright. There has been movement in the ground since the ice melted, and the stone is half in the dirt. I am proud to have kept it in place for you, and worked hard with Mother to build it a new settlement.
Ah! But here you are!
Come to see the power in my dedication! To offer gratitude to my caretaking!
You say little, but you whistle and shout to a new furry friend, a dog not unlike your last friend whose stone I have kept in great condition. But this new dog is different. She stares at me a long time. And when I look at you, I see that you are staring at me, too.
You back away. Your new furry friend steps closer… stepping on the earth that has no grass, where your old friend is buried. You hold up something in your hand, and I hear it: a click. The dog runs to you and runs around your feet. You come closer and you touch the stone, our stone, and you give it a pat.
I watch you lead your new dog away, to another tree, one I know well. And your new puppy does her business over there. I laugh to myself, but you don’t hear it. Or maybe you do. You glanced in my direction when I laughed. But there was also a breeze, and noise tends to carry from other places when that happens.
You go inside your house then, and I wave goodbye.
I think you waved back to me.
But that might have just been the breeze.