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The Tree of Life and the Tree of Death

By David Newton

Up until this year, my 55th year, I have escaped the loss of immediate family (excluding that is the deaths of my four grandparents). 2011 laid waste to this claim, with my father passing away in January and my mother in July. In addition an elderly gentleman, whom I had originally met a number of years ago during my short career as a hospice volunteer, also passed away. I didn’t formally get to say goodbye (I actually prefer the French term Au revoir!) to any of them, although I had seen them all within a month of their individual deaths.

To somewhat make matters worse the condominium association that manages the community where I reside, in Princeton, NJ, ordered all resident to remove trees from the private courtyards, indicating they could pose a structural threat to the masonry walls whose upkeep is the responsibility of the association. In my courtyard this applies to two trees both planted prior to my residency. For one of those trees I am willing to comply with the request, removing the other presents me with a real problem.

The tree in question is a cherry tree, which once a year produces a pink blossom that is admired by all who venture within its vicinity. I wrote to the condominium association almost begging them to spare the tree. They kindly gave me a reprieve for a month because I had informed them that my mother was dying. At the end of the month extension I received another letter telling me that my time, or should I say the tree’s time, was up. If I didn’t immediately make plans to remove the tree I would be subject to a fine of $50 a day. Nevertheless at the end of the letter they also said that if I so wished I had the right to refer the matter to the association’s Ombudsman, who would make a final recommendation to the board. I have opted to appeal to the Ombudsman, following which I will either be directed to immediately remove the tree or win a permanent reprieve for the tree or win a temporary reprieve allowing her one last flowering season prior to her removal.

There is a link, admittedly tenuous, between the passing of my parents, the elderly man, whom I periodically used to visit, and my flowering cherry tree. All three of them loved their gardens; gardening for them went beyond the physical realm and embraced the spiritual. For my part I am a horrible gardener, inheriting virtually none of my mother’s “green thumb,” yet I feel the need to defend the Cherry Tree’s existence and delay the inevitable for as long as possible.I cannot even claim the moral high ground over the condominium association; I am merely trying to prolong the life of a tree thereby preventing further loss. In my own, probably selfrighteous and sanctimonious way, the protest is my attempt to give life to the words of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, written as his own father lay dying:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.…
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I can only hope that something positive comes from all this, perhaps a way of commemorating their lives will emerge. Gardening, after all, demonstrates the gardener’s faith in the future!