The Ash Tree of My Childhood

by Melannie Svoboda SND on April 22, 2013

In honor of Earth Day, I’d like to tell you about an ash tree of my childhood. This reflection is based on my book When the Rain Speaks: Celebrating God’s Presence in Nature. 

The ash tree (a white ash) grew on the east side of our big yellow farm house by the side porch. It was taller than our two-story house–probably about forty feet tall–with a “wing span” of about forty feet as well. The tree was a buffer against the cold east wind in the winter and a provider of cool shade in the hot summer. But the tree was much more than that for me and my siblings.

The tree was our playground. We often climbed up into its sturdy branches where we pretended the afternoon away. Sometimes we imagined the tree was a huge military cargo plane trying to make a landing with only one of its four engines still sputtering. We marveled how my two brothers managed to bring the plane down safely every time.IMG_0539 Or the tree became our tree house in which we lounged, giggled, and shared secrets. The tree measured our growth too. One by one we all got tall enough to swing up onto its lower branches without a boost. It was the high platform from which the bravest of us would jump and flap our arms in our earnest but futile attempts to fly.

The tree was our personal set of monkey bars, providing us with numerous branches to crawl up and dangle from. It was a lookout tower from which we could see clear over to the next farm. And the ash tree became our hiding place when Mom was cooking up more chores for us to do.

And all the while the tree just stood there. Solid. Rooted. Immovable. It never sought shelter from the storms. It never said a word either, but day after day it welcomed us beneath its shade or up into its branches–no questions asked. The tree was forgiving. Most of the time we took its presence for granted. More than once we nailed signs into its limbs, but it never retaliated. The tree was the silent sentinel of our childhood.

The tree was still standing when a nearby airport expanded and took our farm, burned down our farm house, and cleared the land for a golf course. Our old ash tree was felled, a victim of “progress” as so many other trees have been throughout history. The writer Sister Macrina Wiederkehr wrote that at one time in her life her spiritual director was a tree. That makes perfect sense to me, for I have always felt our ash tree, like many other trees, exuded a wisdom unsurpassed by most other living things. As the psychologist Carl Jung once said to a colleague, “Sometimes a tree tells you more than you can read in books.”

To this day I am amazed how a single tree could have had such an impact on my growing up. When I recall this tree, these words and images come effortlessly to mind: friend, playmate, confidant, shelter, sage, nanny, grandfather–and even God.

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Are there any special trees in your life? Notice the trees today as you walk or drive along.

Have you ever had a tree planted in memory of someone or as a gift for someone? Check out these places:

* Trees in Celebration/Trees in Memory at arborday.com

* Jewish National Fund: Tree Planting Center: www.jnf.org

* Nature Conservancy: One dollar. One Tree. One planet: www.plantabillion.org

* Food for the Poor: www.FoodForThePoor.org/special gifts (In honor of my niece Melannie being awarded her PhD, I’m having two fruit-bearing trees planted that will provide a poor family with nutritious food and additional income.)

 

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Colleen April 22, 2013 at 9:35 am

What a wonderful story and a beautiful picture! My family growing up as well as my immediate family now, have always had a love of, and appreciation for, trees! We would rename them based on what they meant to us: the “fun” tree at grandma and grandpa’s house which my girls would climb every time we visited; the “man-eating” tree which grew so large and bushy that we would joke if you went in, you might never come out; the “bird” tree where I hang my feeders and refused to let the landscape “expert” take down; the “talking” trees which would sound so beautiful in the wind and I enjoyed from my screened in porch when we lived in Roanoke, Virginia for a time…
From the time I was a girl and even now, I cannot resist collecting tree offerings when I find them on the ground-acorns, pine cones, fall leaves etc. all become treasures for my girl’s fairy garden to be enjoyed a bit longer.
And lastly, my favorite book growing up was “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. I cry every time I read it.
Many, many more memories and your story brought them all back and I thank you for that!

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 22, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Dear Colleen, What a great idea–to name the trees! That shows how much you really appreciated them! And yes, “The Giving Tree” is a marvelous book. I read it every now and then–just because its message is so important. God bless you for your sharing with us! Sr. Melannie

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Nancy Meyers SND Assoc. April 22, 2013 at 9:49 am

I loved this article as well as many other your other writings. I print out your articles for my Rosary Group and love the Reflection questions which I also use. And I agree with Colleen it did remind me of the Giving Tree. I read that book to my First Graders at St. Therese School in Southgate, Ky, to my grandchildren and just recently read it to my First Grade CCD class. Every Monday I am so anxious to get on the computer and wait for your posting. Thank you for these moments of relaxation and material to use for meditations.

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 22, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Dear Nancy, Thank you for reminding us of that wonderful book “The Giving Tree.” And thank you for sharing my blog with others. I’m honored! Melannie

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Bridget Holy April 22, 2013 at 10:04 am

Another Spectacular Monday has begun, the story of a Tree. You bring out the Best in us Sister. Yes I loved living in the trees as a child, as an adult we have a tree outside our kitchen window that we planted 26 years ago, for our future, to watch it grow and for the Birds, yes we have so many feathered visitors through out the years that brings us such joy. I personally have never climbed it, but our adult son did a year ago.
It is so nice to read about your memories of your Friend Mr. Ash.
B

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 22, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Dear Bridget, How lucky you are to have that tree right outside your kitchen window! And trees really do draw the birds too! Thank you! Sr. Melannie

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Marilyn T. sabatino, S.N.D. April 22, 2013 at 10:51 am

Melannie,…what a great tree story…we too had a tree at the side of our house that was the very same thing for me…….trees are also so resilient…unless of course it get some fatal desease and die like us humans…………….and so we you are right we receive much wisdom from them…………….some of the Brazilian sisters I lived with in Rome…at Casa Madre…went to walk around the property at a certain time of the day….because they said that was the time trees give off their energy. ..awesome thought..take care Marilyn T. Sabatino, SND

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 22, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Dear Marilyn, Thank you for the story of our Brazilian Sisters. We can learn so much from other cultures! Melannie

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Melannie Hartman April 22, 2013 at 11:46 am

You brought back some treasured memories. I remember that Ash tree well – it was an important tree of my tree-climbing childhood also! I believe that somewhere there is a photograph of my brother John, my sister Lori and I on the lower limb together with our arms wrapped tight around it. But most vivid in my mind is all the large family gatherings we had with our grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in the shade of that tree.

Now one of my favorite trees is the tall quaking aspen tree in my back yard. It is a beautiful tree in all seasons, and is used by many birds and squirrels. I scattered some of my dog Aspen’s ashes beneath it. About eight years ago I let a couple of suckers from that tree sprout up in my yard and grow. Just a couple of years ago a heavy wet snow bent those two saplings to the ground. I panicked and knocked the snow off them immediately. They survived and are now 20 feet tall.

Thank you for honoring my Ph.D. by donating two fruit trees to people in need! That was so appropriate for several causes I care deeply about!

Love, Melannie

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 22, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Dear Melannie, Thank you for reminding me that the ash tree of my childhood also played a role in YOUR childhood!…We were so lucky to have all those trees in the yard–the canopy for all those family gatherings…I loved your story about the aspen in your back yard–another example of the resiliency of life! I thought you’d appreciate those two fruit-bearing trees being given to some family in your name….Thanks for writing, My Dear Niece! AD

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Annie April 22, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Sometimes I think the trees call me “Tree Friend.” It is a high compliment. Trees are like God, like Jesus. They accept much and forgive much. Thank you for the opportunity to re-read your reflection. It’s so painful to see trees cut down. We can’t make them, so it somehow seems wrong to cut them down. As William Blake said so well, “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.”

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Dear Annie, You said it so well: Trees “accept much and forgive much.” And the quote from Blake is really good! Thank you for enriching my blog! And keep hugging those trees! Melannie

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Larry Cummins April 22, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Melannie,

All creation speaks of the glory of God. I never fail to draw close to God in nature and trees of all kinds speak to me of the great beauty, variety and strength of God. We are blessed here in NH where there is a place in Rindge called the Cathedral of the Pines. What a wonderful space for prayer, worship and reflection.

My wife and I also have a tree which decorates the landscape of Columban Retreat Center in Derby, NY in honor of living members af both of our families and in memory of those deceased. It is a real live family tree connecting the past, present and future for us.

And finally as has been mentioned previously, the “Giving Tree” is a wonderful book of which I never tire. Our children and grandchildren and countless CCD classes I have worked with have grown up on its message.

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 22, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Dear Larry, I really agree that a grove of trees IS a wonderful place for prayer and worship…And what a beautiful idea–to have a tree at a Retreat Center in honor of the living and deceased members of your families….Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us! Melannie

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Jane Meier April 22, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Sr. Melannie – Your post remineded me of my grandfather! He had a poster next to his front door and it read “Bloom where you are planted.” 1 Corinthians 7:17-24. Whenever we visited him, it was always a reminder to me that he lived this verse to the fullest. My grandfather was a farmer and he lived for 100 years! He and my grandmother (she passed in 1969) raised 9 children who produced 25 grandchildren who produced many more greatgrandchildren! On my grandfather’s 90th birthday, we visited the farm to celebrate his life milestone! My grandparents lived in a pre-Civil War farmhouse and there was a tree (and it is still there) next to the house. We took a family picture that included his children, grandchildren and greatchildren under that tree! When I look at that family photo, I am amazed that 1 man at the center of the photo (the tree trunk) was responsible for and a part of all us (the branches)! He bloomed where he was planted and he continues to live on in all of us! Thank you for your weekly posts. I enjoy them very much!

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 22, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Dear Jane, What a beautiful story of your grandfather! And how nice for you to have a picture of your family with him under that big tree. Thank you for inspiring us with your story. God bless you! Sr. Melannie

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Diana Harkai April 23, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Hi, Melannie:
I remember your stories of the tree from years past. I have fond memories of your fond memories…
I think there is some unspoken bond between children and trees. As kids we had the energy to conquer them, our captive audience, they weren’t really going anywhere. I loved trees. Had a couple of run-ins with a tree in our front yard. Really, ran right into it, broke my middle finger and had a 3″ sliver stuck in the top of my hand. Don’t ask me how or why I ran into that tree. It hurt! But, I still loved trees. My attitude toward trees may have changed somewhat when I owned my home. The most beautiful maple tree in my front yard was killing my foundation and sewer lines. I called that tree every name under the sun. But, that tree wasn’t going anywhere. It cost me big time to do the necessary work, but that tree was there long before me or my house. No amount of money could ever replace what that tree provided for all the lives that ever enjoyed its company. Thanks for the memories…
Diana

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 23, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Dear Diana, Thank you for reminding us of other aspects of trees–how they can interfere with the foundations of our houses! But it seems to me you made a good decision about keeping that tree–despite the extra cost! Thanks for your memories too! Melannie

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marian April 23, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Hi Sr. Melannie
We have had a cool spring here in the East…the buds and the leaves on the trees have appeared a bit more slowly…it has been a wondrous sight to watch…I feel thankful

Marian

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Melannie Svoboda SND April 24, 2013 at 10:32 am

Dear Marian, Our spring too has been a little more “prolonged” than usual. It gives us more time to appreciate the “wondrous sight” and to “feel thankful.” Lucky us! Sr. Melannie

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