Ode to a Tree
© Darrell Young

My new wife and I stood, hand in hand, in the warm spring sun nearly 27 years ago. It was a warm day for May in 1979, and the birds were singing in praise of the new colors of the earth. As we basked in the warmth of the sun and felt the happiness of a newly married couple, Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains seemed like the perfect place to be...this day.

As our senses drank deeply of the colors and fragrance of our mountains, we noticed a tree. It was standing alone in the valley before us. The tree wasn't special in any particular way, except that it caught our eye. We enjoyed the way it stood, with the background showing a mountain on either side of its branches. A lovely V shape, with a tree in the middle, and a mountain behind. I took a single picture.

Months go by, and life does too. Now it's fall and life is slowing down, readying itself for the coming winter. We stand in the same spot from half a year ago, still deeply in love, hand in hand. We stopped here just because we remembered, and "our" tree was still there, preparing for sleep by changing colors and fluttering leaves. We both took a picture.

With the passing of time, two become three, and a baby was born. Our family was growing, and May of 1981 brought little Autumn Michelle. She could not appreciate the mountains we visited, nor could she understand the passing of days and years, blurring the present into the past. But, as we three gazed at the mountains, and our tree in the V, we knew that things were good. Our album of this tree, and our family, is growing.

Our new baby, David, in 1983 was not impressed by our standalone tree. But, we four were together, and our tree was there too. The five of us, enjoying life in our own ways, as the mountains around us continued.

Years passed quickly, and the tradition of the tree grew within our family. By now, in 1999, there were five children, each with a camera, and regular visits to Cades Cove. Each time we passed by the cabins, churches, and deer in the Cove, we always stopped at our spot, for a picture of a standalone tree in the valley with a view. Now seven cameras took a picture of “Mama and Daddy's tree.”

Several times each year, since then, our family came, and stopped to look. Yes, the tree still stood, proud and strong in the sun, giving the birds a place to perch, and my family a spot to stop and remember, and take a picture.

The children grew, two were married, and a new granddaughter, Caidance, lit up our lives. 2003 was a good year. The autumn leaves welcomed her into the world, and our visit to the tree confirmed the tradition.

In 2004 a storm blew through the mountains and lightning did its damage. Our tree, standing alone in the middle of a field, was an attractor for overwhelming sound and light. Our next trip to the cove made us sad, as we saw our tree with a wound. It was clear that our tree was hurt, and we hoped it would survive. We took a picture and worried. Each time we stopped that year, our tree seemed unchanged…still alive…healing…and finally healed.

May of 2005 drew us to the mountains to wake up from the cold winter and enjoy the sun, the wildflowers, and our tree. We started at the beginning of the cove, taking pictures of the cabins, and flowers, and mountains. We knew that soon, once again, we would stop in that spot, the one with a view, and take out our Nikons in respect. As we drove around the curve, and pulled into our spot, something was different….this can't be…our tree was gone. Not fallen…just gone! My wife and I looked at each other, and tears were in our eyes. Little Hannah said what we all couldn't believe, "Daddy, it's gone!"

It was quiet in our car, as we all looked out over the field where our tree had always been. The valley between two mountains was alone, our family friend was gone. Not a sign of the tree was there, not a leaf, branch, or stump. It was as if it had never been.

Now, only in our memories, the tree still stands. Does anyone else even know? Does the young couple we saw having a picnic last year at the base of our tree know that it is no more? Do the birds that raised babies in its branches fly over puzzled? Do the deer that grazed in its summer shade have a memory?

How many millions of people have driven through Cades Cove in 27 years, and passed our tree without a thought or a picture? Or, are there others? We surely couldn't be the only ones who saw it, and came to love…a single proud tree in a valley, with three mountains in its view.

We are older now, the kids are growing up, and this year has gone by. The winter is almost here. Next year, my wife, and I, and the three children still at home, will go back to the Cove, stop at the spot, and remember. All we have are our memories, each other, and a family tradition of cameras and pictures, and mountains. Our tree has left us full of the mountains, with sweet memories of many days in the Cove, with deer in the fields and bears in the trees, and sunsets. To our tree, wherever you are now…we will never forget you. Thank you for giving us so many years of pleasure and tradition and family!

Keep on capturing time ... (now you know why I say this on each article I write)

Copyright © 2005 by Darrell Young, a.k.a. Digital Darrell, All Rights Reserved