Gerald works for my Granddaddy and has for as long as I can remember. He’s certainly getting on in years but his age is hard to distinguish - I’m guessing he’s well into his 70s. He has thinning hair that he often covers with a feedstore cap and wears pinstripe overalls or well-worn jeans with suspenders. He is missing one of his front teeth, along with parts of several others, and he talks in such an affected Southern accent that I can only understand about 70% of what he says. (This is a significant improvement over the 40-50% I understood when we first moved in with my grandparents.)
Lucy spent the first 2 years of our life here afraid of Gerald but decided at the beginning of the summer that he wasn’t so scary after all. Now Lu not only acknowledges his existence but stands at the edge of a field and yells at him until he waves at her from the tractor. Now that Queen Lucy bestows her graces upon him Gerald, in turn, adores Lucy, thinks she's the smartest thing ever, and has taken to calling her “Cupcake.” She is okay with this.
Gerald takes care of the land around here. He mows field after field in the spring and summer, taking slow turns in the tractor with Bella chasing behind him. He splits and stacks firewood, maintains the blueberries for the church, and gathers fallen limbs each time a storm whips through these woods.
But this summer it seemed like all Gerald was doing was cutting down trees. 30 years ago (before anybody knew better, I guess) my Granddaddy planted a line of Bradford Pear trees along the drive in front of the house. They are the biggest Bradford Pears I have ever seen - they’re never topped and so they’ve grown to an immense height. They stink like no other in the spring when they’re blossoming out but they are beautiful in the summer with their lush green leaves and they are just gorgeous in the fall as they turn any number of autumn shades before dropping their leaves to the ground and resting for the winter.
Lately, though, a few of those trees haven’t been able to withstand the winds that have gone whipping through and around them during the Tennessee storms that I don’t think this California girl will ever quite get used to. One was pulled up at the roots, another was cracked entirely in half, and a third was showing sure signs of disease and death. And so, at successive times from May to July, Gerald was out with his chain saw, cutting the trees into limbs, cutting the limbs into logs, and dragging the logs away to be stacked for firewood or added to the burn pile. You can imagine that this would take a 70-something year old man working on his own quite a while, and so it seemed that every time we turned onto our drive and headed down into our little valley we saw him there, just cutting down trees.
I know that Gerald didn’t cause the trees’ demise, but I couldn’t help feeling like he was betraying me a little. There he was all day long with that stinky loud chainsaw and that stinky loud tractor, taking down beautiful trees and leaving ugly old stumps in their place.
And then one evening as I stood at the sink doing dishes I looked up for a moment and glanced through the window. For the first time from that vantage point I could see the pond perfectly. The fading sunlight shone golden upon its surface and the breeze blew it into tiny, perfect, perpetual waves. The beauty took my breath away. I had never noticed it like this before - those giant trees had always been in the way.
It feels like there have been some trees getting cut down in my soul recently. Maybe they are even overgrown Bradford Pears, giant and beautiful and lush but secretly weak and not grounded nearly well enough. And I hate the stinky loud chainsaw that feels like it’s wreaking havoc on the landscape of my heart. But I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to look out the window and see something beautiful because they’re gone. And that one day I’ll be able to say “Thank you for it all.”