May 12, 2005

The Tree is Gone

The tree in my backyard is gone. The trunk had split, creating a dangerous hazard to a fence, our house, and anyone who walked beneath it. So it had to go.

Losing that tree is like losing a friend. For the past five years that we've lived in the parsonage, it has protected my family from the summer sun. It was a playmate to my children, who swung from its branches. It was a link to the past, having been planted by one of my predecessors at Fairview Church, Hoffman Hurley, nearly fifty years ago. The backyard is a place of fun for my family, but losing the tree will no doubt change the look and feel of the backyard, and the fun that we have there.

The changes that have come to my backyard remind me of the changes that came to one of my favorite childhood places. Leo Carrillo State Beach was named after a Hollywood actor whose movies I never saw. It is, I've been told, the only place in California where the mountains run perpendicular into the sea. Up on top, they're covered with grass and yucca and cactus, and the tracks of rabbits, bobcats, mountain lions and deer; but where the mountains disappear into the surf, a playground of cliffs and tunnels and other unique rock formations exists, all built over thousands and thousands of years of creative shaping and carving by the hands of the restless sea.

For many summer weekends, this playground was mine. I knew every inch of it. I often scrambled over rocks to find sea anemones, crabs, and other tide pool creatures. Sometimes, when the tide was low, I would even be fortunate enough to discover a sea star. Each rock formation had its own personality. Some were friendly, comforting, but others were threatening, having been shaped into irregular patterns, like the landscape of a distant planet as illustrated on the pages of a sci-fi novel. Yet, I knew them all. I knew which rocks provided the best views of the pink foam at sunrise, and of the surfers who rode through the foam. I knew exactly where and when a person could climb without getting wet from the crashing waves. I knew the best times to sit at the Blowhole, a hollow in the rocks where, if the conditions were just right, the water would rush in, and then shoot straight up in the air, sometimes fifty feet high.

What I didn't know, however -- what I couldn't possibly know -- were the beaches, the half dozen or so small coves nestled in between the rocky cliffs. I couldn't know these coves, because they were never the same. They changed with the seasons, the weather, and the tides. Sometimes the sand would be piled high, halfway up the cliffs, where it seemed the waves couldn't possibly touch them. Other times, the sand would be all but gone, carried away by the giant waves of a winter storm, and the cove would hardly exist at all, the waves reaching all the way back to the rocky cliffs. Sometimes the beaches would be soft and clean, perfect for walking barefoot; other times, they'd be littered with kelp and pebbles and broken shells and even, once, a large section of the Santa Monica pier which had come to rest here after breaking off during a particularly violent storm some months earlier.

When I first noticed the changing nature of the beaches, I was annoyed. This was, after all, my playground, and I hadn't given anyone permission to go around making these changes. Over time, however, I came to accept the changes, and even, eventually, to look forward to them. Every time I stepped onto one of the coves, I missed the beach that was there the last time, the beach I remembered, but I looked forward to the new discoveries I would be able to make on this new beach, the rock formations that were buried last time but now were exposed, or the places that were once inaccessible to which I could now walk on a mountain of sand.

No longer do I live so close to the ocean, yet now I find myself in a land that, like the beach, is always changing. The change of seasons, for one thing, is a little more noticeable here. In addition, there are changes in roadways, demographics, and development. When I go running along the dirt road that leads from my house, the railroad tracks on my right, and rice fields on my left, I often find myself running with rabbits. Some years, there are lots of them, but other years, not so many. Sometimes I notice that a field that had one crop last year has been planted with something different this year. Sometimes I notice houses with new families moving in. In so many ways, my community, my world, is changing.

Which brings me back to the tree. What's next for the tiny, little patch of nature that is my backyard? Time will tell. One thing's for sure, though: my backyard, like my community, and life in general, will continue to change, continue to provide opportunities for new discoveries, for many generations to come.

1 comment:

PPB said...

beautiful post.