You know what it's like trying to talk to someone up a tree, right?
Maybe not. Not literally. Not on a cellphone with an actual tree man: "Uh, can I call you back?" The tree man said. "I'm up a tree....."
"Oh, of course, sure...." and I hung up, embarrassed. As if I'd caught him sitting on the pot.
I think back now on that phone call, trying to picture this man, up a tree, having to reach for his phone, while hanging on for dear life with the other hand. I know it's not like that. I'm sure he was safely secured with some kind of cables.
But when I heard he'd died, at 44, that's the first thing I imagined; that whatever safety precautions he'd taken had failed, and he had actually fallen from a tree to his death.
It wasn't like that. He'd been killed by one of his own machines that rolled over him. On a Sunday. When he'd been alone. At his business yard.
This news devastated me, and I'm not sure why. I'd only met him twice. Maybe because I was feeling foolish for recently calling and leaving messages for him. For a dead man. Sure, there are other tree men, but he'd worked for my mother last spring, and had struck us both as upstanding. He actually had sat down and listened thoughtfully to my mother ramble on about her garden and her trees, how at 93, it had all become too much for her to keep up. He'd sipped a cup of her too-strong tea.
In the fall, we'd called him back to assess the damage after Hurricane Irene, fallen cherry trees. I'd walked with him around her wooded yard. He wasn't a talker, as perhaps real tree men aren't. Ones who really have a respect for the majesty of a tree, looking to preserve the health of trees, even to the point of discouraging a customer from cutting down a perfectly healthy if perhaps unsightly tree.
I've gone so far as to look up his obituary. I read there that he had been a lover of nature. So is my mother, an artist, who has spent her life reverentially expressing the natural world. And maybe that's why he had sat down with her on her porch for a cup of tea, rather than running off to the next estimate. Maybe that is why I am in mourning; here was a person that briefly entered the small circle of my struggling elderly mother and her steadfast daughter, offering an innate patience, if not true veneration. As if we were two trees he could assess, one old and losing its agility to sprout new leaves; the other stressed, trying to survive under rather harsh conditions.
He has left behind a wife and four young children. In my mother's yard one of the trees he had reinforced with a wire brace stands strong. I look up now at my own trees, towering maples. At this moment, they are in great relief; their new leaves a brilliant green against an ominous grey sky. I am looking up. Respectfully.