Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Tree

Every June for six years, around Father's Day, I enjoyed the heady jasmine scent of the flowers on the basswood tree outside my former home in Westville. The scent was a pleasant surprise, since so much about the basswood is, frankly, annoying. There are different varietals of the tree, and although I don't know the exact type "mine" was, it could be best described as "shedding". Three seasons out of the year the tree shed something: copper-colored, dusty remnants of blooms through spring and summer; and in the fall, leaves. Just yellow and brown leaves. There was nothing brilliant about the foliage. It just kind of turned tired and hit the ground.

I don't miss my compulsive need to sweep the front walk. It ranks up there in the top 10 of things I don't miss about living in my old house. But I do miss the scent of the flowers in mid-June. I have very clear memories associated with it: teaching Sean to ride his tricycle up and down the sidewalk; chalk-drawing with the boys; watering my impatiens that I planted each spring in rows that flanked the walkway to my door; chatting with neighbors; sitting on my front stoop reading the paper with a glass of water, while my two babies slept soundly in their stroller after a warm June walk; moving into my house as a pregnant newlywed; moving out of it as a determined, divorced mother of two. All of it under the watchful eye of the graceless tree that smelled so good.

I had never known the fragrant basswood prior to moving to my old house. Maybe I had just never noticed it before. I thought it was some kind of special tree, some magical wood. I later found out that New Haven had planted many of them long ago to replace the dying and dead elms that had given the city its nickname, The Elm City. Still, the one in front of my house was special, at least to me. It was the only one on the block with that fragrance. The rest were a different type of basswood, and they didn't shed as much.

Living in my old house has suddenly become a distant memory. How quickly it went from a time of intense happiness--and eventually acute pain--to something that simply "was". It was a good and happy home for a while, a nurturing place that offered comfort and solace. When that changed and could not be fixed, it was time to let it go and let another family take over. I don't miss it, really.

But I missed the scent of my tree, mostly because I never thought I'd smell it again. I hadn't thought of it, until a few weeks ago when I was walking Cee Cee in the early morning. It was a muggy start to a June day, the birds chirped away and Cee Cee sniffed at everything in our path. We were rounding a corner and a block from home when suddenly, I smelled it: My basswood tree. I looked up. Sure enough, there it was. How lovely, I thought. Someone else has one! I can come here to smell it! I stopped, breathed deeply. Sighing, I continued on my walk with Cee Cee, the scent still clinging to my nose--or so I thought. I paused, and looked down the last three blocks of the street: "my" basswood lined both sides of the street, up and down, all around. The entire street was filled with the scent, and the sidewalk was beginning to be covered with tiny fallen blooms to prove it.

What a silly thing to think I'd never smell that tree again. My one tree back in my old neighborhood wasn't all that special, in the end. It was just all alone, doing its best to fill up our corner of the world with something beautiful. Now, in my new place, I've found a grove of sorts. Strength in numbers. Dozens of trees to sweeten the neighborhood air in June. I was able to enjoy it for days on end. And now that the blooms are fully dried and the scent is gone, I'm happy they're not falling on my sidewalk, desperately needing to be swept away.


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