I once knew a woman who lived in a tree. Or just about. Nearly. The house she inherited was beneath a trophy silver maple, the largest such in the entire state, as a matter of fact, dwarfing an otherwise impressive two-story shingled charmer of decent vintage in every way it is possible to dominate, engulf, rule and dwindle the resources of a domicile, and the silence, of course, was stupendous. The light, on the other hand, through each and every window, was unrelenting tree-light, slow movements of varying shadows with, very occasionally, a freckle or two of sunshine. The hour was always arboreal. One had to go outside and walk to the highway to see whether the sun was shining and it was, of course, always very hard to tell the time of any day except in winter when the tree was bare and the house swept by branch and twig light which threshed and twitched through the months of cold.
She had a boy, a very tall one, who not only kept gerbils and tropical fish, but an iguana and several hives of bees. He gathered honey and wax from them and there was a daughter, as well, who went up and up on a swing that stretched from the lowest branch of the tree. The boy became a biologist, the girl a poet when she wasn’t contending in some long-distance charity race or other.
When the tree attained landmark status, it was given a small wooden plaque with raised metal letters to be placed in front of, not on (of course) the trunk. A circle of iron stakes at the drip line of the branches threaded with braided wire was installed by some department or other to prevent viewers from trampling the earth beneath the tree, compacting the soil, snuffing aeration and hardening it against rainfall in general. The tree, the tree, everything was for the tree and my friend’s house was viewed by its many visitors as the tree-keepers lodging and nothing more. (Were there brochures? May I use the restroom? How old is the tree and what is its name? Do you serve anything here? I hope you are organic. . . .)
The house, nonetheless, was rental property during the summer, which made the let a bit dicey, what with all the visitors. A gloomy poet one year, loved the darkness. A mystery writer, for the same reason. My friend went to the family cabin in Maine and a “sensitive,” a woman with crimson hair, leased the house.
I remember my friend looking at the tree as if intuiting its demeanor. I do think she was aware of its moods, its many shifts of emphasis, its ability to go through storm and adversity.
When she was not very old, she sensed the tree’s impending death and then her own.
They went together and the house filled with light.