Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring and the Acacia Tree

My brother, Raym,
and yours truly on Joe the donkey,
circa 1962

Where I grew up in Northern California, the 4 seasons were not sharply defined like they are here in the Ozarks.  Most of the trees were evergreens, predominately redwoods, which didn't have obvious seasonal changes; our seasons were defined more subtly. Summer was squealing with shock as we dipped into the frigid Smith River, and riding Larry Johnson's donkey, Joe.  In the evenings, after dinner, we'd play softball with friends from the neighborhood, disbanding reluctantly at dusk when we could scarcely see home plate.  Fall would begin with a familiar knot in the pit of my stomach at the loss of freedom; then I'd settle into the routine of math competitions and science projects and history class with the handsome Mr. Vernon.  But there was always something magical about spring.

Spring was riding my bike to the beach down Moorehead Road, past the fields of cows and the handmade sign, For Sale - Red Wriggler Fishworms; it was the hum of bees and the fragrance of wildflowers on the wind, and feeling that, in spite of getting a C in art class, things were all right with the world.

In my world, spring was also defined by the acacia tree.  My family lived in the parsonage behind the only church in town.  In the front yard of the church was a massive acacia tree.  It was a perfect tree for climbing, its huge limbs reaching so low that all but the very youngest of us could manage to scramble up and perch there after church.  The limbs were covered with tiny holes, which at the time, I thought was characteristic of acacia trees, but have since realized was the work of woodpeckers.  This may have indicated something about the health of the tree.  Whatever its condition, it always managed to put on a grand display in the spring when its tiny blossoms, like miniature yellow tennis balls, covered the tree, and garnered the attention of everyone in town.

My father, besides being the pastor, also acted as groundskeeper, and when he determined the tree was no longer safe, without any notice, he cut it down, an act that managed to anger a good part of the congregation and the entire community.  Dad was never too concerned about public opinion.  He may have seemed impulsive at times, but he had probably been thinking about that tree for a long time, and he didn't want to get into a big discussion about it or have a committee formed to study the implications of such an action, and he certainly didn't want to see any children get hurt.

One way or another, people managed to get over the loss, and nobody could stay mad at Dad for long.  He was just too fun to be around.  His laughter would fill a room like the aroma of mom's Sunday pot roast.

I've decided, after all these years, that besides keeping the church kids safe, my father did us all a favor by cutting that old acacia tree down.  He reminded us that nothing here on earth, not even things of exquisite beauty, are permanent.  But if, in the language of the Bible, seedtime is synonymous with spring, as I think it is, then we have a promise, one God made to Noah long ago, that as long as the earth remains, there will be spring.

As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night will never cease.

Genesis 8:22

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