By Dewain Belgard I read somewhere that cedar trees can live to be a thousand years old. The cedar in my neighbor's yard was not nearly so old as that, but it was one of the largest and oldest trees in our neighborhood. My neighbor, Miss Lou, never liked the tree because it shaded her backyard. My partner and dear friend of many years, who died several years ago, never liked the tree either. I once asked him why. He said, "Because it hides my view of the sunset."
As for me—I loved the old cedar tree. We had became close friends through the years. I was always concerned about it. When there was a storm, I checked on it afterwards to see that it survived. For twenty years I've known that tree. It has shown me how to live with patience; accepting summer and winter, storm and calm, sheltering a flock of mourning doves and other birds who make their homes in it. Today it showed me how to die.
The young men Miss Lou hired to cut it down were experts at their trade. They sawed off each lovely limb, starting at the bottom and proceeding to the top of each of its three trunks. Then they cut the trunks off piece by piece until there was nothing left but empty sky. As each limb of the old tree was cut away, the remaining limbs continued to sway gracefully in the breeze until there were no limbs remaining.
I could see the old tree in my neighbor's yard through the glass doors of the room where I sit in meditation. I lit three sticks of incense on the altar and sat on my cushion watching until the last limb dropped. My roommate walked by while I was watching. I thought aloud, "I wonder where the doves will sleep tonight." He said, "Oh, I'm sure they'll find another tree." I waited until he left for work, and then I cried. While sitting in meditation, I used to watch the doves go to roost in the cedar tree at night, and at sunrise I would watch them shoot out of the tree like darts. But this night the doves were confused. They circled around and around looking for their tree home. Some settled into a little cherry tree nearby. Some lit on neighboring rooftops. A few cooed mournfully as they do every night. But most of them flew around twittering in alarm until darkness fell.
Where I grew up in rural Louisiana, there was a saying that anyone who cut down a cedar tree would die before a year was past. Needless to say, not many cedar trees were cut down in that area. I never put much stock in such old sayings. Nevertheless I lit incense for the young tree-cutters and for old Miss Lou who hired them.
Through this experience, I realized that killing another living being deliberately and unnecessarily kills a part of ourselves.
Dewain Belgard is a social worker living in New Orleans, Louisiana.