Last Thursday was April 6th. Seven years ago on April 6th, we signed the papers for our house. We received the keys. Actually, we forget to get the keys at closing and called our realtor laughing as we realized we had to go back to the title company to get them. I remember opening the front door for the first time and jumping up and down because it was ours. We ran room to room. I touched all the doorknobs and walls and I breathed in the space that from that moment forward would be home for us.
We would grow our family in those walls. We would make those walls ours with paint and framed photos and scuff marks that told stories. That empty house was not empty at all but full of possibilities and opportunity and the future.
Last Wednesday the tree people, and by tree people I really mean arborists, not a race of tree like folks from middle earth, were supposed to come cut down the burned trees. Late Tuesday night they called and asked if they could come Thursday instead because they weren’t quite done with another job, and of course that was fine with us.
So last Thursday, the day that marked 7 years since the day our house became our home, a group of men came to cut down trees and officially start the rebuilding process. Somehow, that’s special.
They started in the back, with the tree that burned the most, the tree that supported my hammock. The same hammock I sat in with Issa and Sam the day before the fire. The last photo I posted on Instagram was of her and I in that hammock. It was the last photo of normal life. It was the tree that held the same hammock that the firemen cut down in order to reach the blaze. But before they cut it down, it hung on a burning tree, embers falling down, burning small holes through the place that brought me so much peace.
I remember standing in the back yard talking to our realtor about the house, before we signed the papers and before we put in an offer. I saw those trees and may have even mentioned out loud the perfection of the distance between them, “perfect hammock trees.” A few years later I snagged a hammock on clearance at Target.
It wasn’t until our road trip last November when I talked with a good friend who does loads of hammock camping that I figured out how to hang it without hurting the trees. I bought straps and carabiners on Amazon and gave them to Bill for Christmas. In the first week of January Issa and I spent a full two days in the yard, cleaning up and playing and I finally hung the hammock. I’d spent time in it every day since I hung it. It was a peaceful place.
On Thursday I watched a man scale that very tall tree, and slowly, branch by branch, cut down the anchor to my peaceful place.
They cut the other tree that burned too, another pine. Then they started on the front yard, cutting a few trees that were too close to the house. Trees demo companies had said would be a problem during demolition. We had two more cut down that were leaning down over the street.
They trimmed all the trees. They cut back the ornamental pear tree that partially burned, the one that always blooms on Issa’s birthday. They trimmed back our oak tree.
That night I cried. I cried for the loss of our trees. I cried because I felt guilty for taking more life. I cried for the loss of trees. Trees that had helped me fall in love with our house. Trees that sheltered our home and provided shade and a place to sit against. We have a lot of trees left, we had over 13 on our small lot. But I still mourned the loss of them.
Hector, the owner of the tree company walked the property with me after they were done to make sure I was happy with their work. I stared at the seemingly bare trees, they looked naked. They looked tied down and broken, like someone had cut off their arms that had once reached for the sky and felt the breeze. I kicked the sawdust beneath my feet which was all that was left of a once tall, strong, tree. They did an amazing job, but I think he could tell I was sad.
“Do you like it?” he asked me.
“Yes, it just looks so different, it looks so bright, the trees look so sparse.”
“Yes they do. The trees you’ve cut down will allow the other trees to grow better. You’ve thinned them out so now the ones that are left won’t have to fight for sun and water. They’ll be healthier. The trees we’ve trimmed will come back healthier, they look sparse now, but next year they will be full. You’ve done good things for these trees. You’ll actually see new growth within two weeks.”
I was shocked that there would be new growth within two weeks. I sat staring at my now very sunny yard. I thought about how I’ll have to garden differently, how the shade loving plants I’d had would all have to be moved. I thought about how I could grow a wildflower garden with all the new sun. I thought about how happy my vegetable garden would be.
Then I thought about what Hector had said. I thought about how cutting back the trees would make them healthier. Then I thought about us. I thought about how cut back I feel. Every extension of myself, my work space, my computer, my cameras, my art supplies, my kitchen, my camping equipment, my peaceful place, the place I’ve made into a home with my family has been abruptly cut away, burned away. It’s gone. And it’s the same for each of us, every extension of Bill, of Issa, is gone.
I wonder if by next year, we’ll be fuller, healthier. We still have each other, we are each other’s main branches, we support each other. We are all bare and we are exposed, but we are in a place where we get to start over. We get to grow and become whatever we want from here. We have the opportunity to regrow our branches, stronger and fuller.
It’s been two months and I can already see the growth happening. We’re still bare and somewhat broken but I can see how we’re stronger. We’re stronger individually and as a family. The therapy we’re going through is exposing us, and forcing us to be real with each other and in turn our marriage is getting stronger and we’re closer as a couple. This tragedy has forced our perspective. It has shown us what is truly important; each other and the people in our lives. It has strengthened our bond as a family and the bonds with our extended family and friends. It is healing relationships and wounds.
For years I had Psalm 128 written out on two post it notes and hanging on our bathroom door. I prayed it over our family every time I read it. I prayed the part about being a fruitful vine and the olive shoots all while we were trying to get pregnant and during the course of my pregnancy. Today I pray that my child will be like an olive shoot, and grow into a strong tree. I pray that this experience makes us all grow stronger, because we are stronger than fire.
A song of ascents.
Blessed are all who fear the Lord,
who walk in obedience to him.
You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Yes, this will be the blessing
for the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion;
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
May you live to see your children’s children—
peace be on Israel.