I work for a company based in the Netherlands and a nonprofit group based in New York, which means that for me "the office" is a bedroom at the back of my Minneapolis home. When most of the working world is gathered around the water cooler, talking about the Vikings or prospects for a second Bush term, I am gazing appreciatively at a pair of elm trees in the yard of my neighbors Pat and Camille.
Whenever I feel frazzled by deadlines, or upset by the news, or simply tired and grumpy, I stare out at these trees and feel a new surge of energy. Even in winter, when the leaves are gone, the sculptural grace of their trunk and limbs makes me happy. The English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley once called poets "the unacknowledged legislators of the world." I think of trees as the unacknowledged therapists.
But the day I long dreaded came this past fall. One of the elms out my window was condemned with a bright orange stripe around its trunk. My son Soren and I happened to be strolling down the sidewalk the morning the tree-removal crew arrived. My fatherly impulse was to cover his eyes, but I knew there could be no hiding the tragic stump we'd see later. Soren had a better idea.: "Let's hug the tree goodbye." And that's just what we did. Although "tree-hugger" would be an accurate characterization of my political beliefs, I couldn't remember if I had actually hugged a tree before.
A few hours later, as I returned from running errands and sat down at my desk, I noticed the tree was still there. I raced downstairs, through the backyard and out to the sidewalk to see if was true. Yes! The tree was still standing! My neighbor Pat explained that our local neighborhood organization had paid for Dutch elm prevention treatments last fall, and when the cutting crew came he asked them to examine the tree one more time to make sure removal was absolutely necessary. They decided it was healthy enough to stay. I thanked him for saving the tree, and he answered with a laugh, "No, it was Soren who saved it -- with his hug."
So right now, glancing happily at that elm tree, I perceive a new sense of possibility in the universe. No matter how beleaguered I sometimes feel, or what rotten shape the country or the world appears to be in some days, I can still summon hope. Miracles, I remind myself looking out the window, do happen.
Jay Walljasper is executive editor of Ode magazine, where a version of this article first appeared.
© 2004 The Star Tribune