When I picked T. up from Scott on Monday afternoon the first words out of his mouth were that they had cut the tree down. I didn't know what he was talking about.
"What tree?" I asked, confused.
"The tree on the playground at her school," he said.
And then I knew immediately which one he was talking about, because there was only one tree on the playground. It was a tall, majestic tree, an old tree--maybe forty or fifty years old. It wasn't the kind of tree children could climb because the branches began way too high up on the trunk. But the trunk itself was thick and strong and just the right sort to hide behind for games of hide and seek. The tree gave the playground perfect shade in the warm months, and after school the moms and dads would gather under it and watch the children play. I can't even count how many afternoons I took L. there after school and the time I spent watching him in his quiet playground games--digging in the mulch, or running the trucks around and around the base of the tree. It was from under the shade of that tree that I sat, heavily pregnant, and watched three-year old L. play, and felt T. push and stretch against my insides.
When T. was finally out into the world, and a baby, I would roll her stroller under the tree and watch her nap, the dappled sun playing across her face. If she was awake she would stare up at the tree in that wide-eyed baby way, her eyes struggling to focus on the patterns of light in the leaves. Sometimes she was fussy and I'd nurse her, leaning my body comfortably against the solid trunk. When T. was older I'd park her diapered bottom on the mulch next to the trunk and she'd pull up on it, cooing with delight, her fingers splayed against the rough bark.
I thought so many thoughts under that tree; dreamed so many dreams, listened to so many conversations.
I felt, in a way, rooted to that tree, strange and sentimental though it may sound. Or, maybe, I felt that parts of all the children who ever played on that playground were woven into the roots, over and under, in and out.
I loved the tree. But as happens sometimes, I didn't know how much I loved the tree until it was gone. On Tuesday before I picked up T. I drove behind the school, to see the playground. Treeless, it seemed flat and empty--open and uncaring, almost, the contours of it altered in ugly ways. I was angry. When I asked the preschool director about the tree she made a rueful face. The tree, although healthy, had been pronounced a "liability" by an arborist and of course the school scrambled--I can imagine how they scrambled, visions of lawsuits swirling through their heads--to have it removed.
Really, a liability? A healthy tree?
And so it's gone, so very thoroughly gone. There is talk of erecting an awning and benches in its place. I know I won't be setting foot on the playground again. In May T. will leave preschool behind forever and a new batch of kids will stream through the playground gates next fall. Maybe, deep under the ground, under the running feet of all the school children who will play in the spot where the tree once stood, some of the roots still remain, curled and thick and enduring.