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Sugar.

It's hard to accept the decline of a much-loved backyard centerpiece.

* As we were preparing this article for publication, Grace Goodwin of Big Bend, Wisconsin, wrote to tell us that she is mourning a husband as well as a tree. She graciously shared with us a book of Donn Goodwin's poetry (he was a poet and retired teacher), and we reproduce one of those poems here, with the suggestion that it and "Sugar" have some eloquent things to say about our journey through life.

FOR MUSIC

That grim spectre who Is always there confronted him And left him rumpled on the floor, To wake with music from this world: The funeral goes past his house, as Seneca observed, but it is not For him that God sends summons, he has Much to do, plans to complete before He meets the appointed day. Who are the people, What are the blessings difficult To leave? Loved ones, family, friends . . . But of all joys no more to hear Music, the great gift--or harmonies In nature--is beyond conjecture: Or the answer lies in measures that Restore the dear sounds he reveres! Ah well, celestial choirs!

A good friend of the family is terminally ill. Our friend is 80 feet tall with a diameter of 2 1/2 feet and is estimated to be 250 years old. A big part of the decision 35 years ago as to exactly where our house would be built involved this ancient sugar maple.

For all these years it has been the center of our backyard activities. Its soothing and cooling shade provided an ideal spot for barbecues and picnics. The spreading branches fully leafed out became a natural umbrella when sudden warm summer rains took us by surprise. Rustling leaves accompanied by a chorus of birds produced a natural symphony. While the children were young, it supported a swing and hovered over the sandbox. It seemed to be part of the family.

Perhaps the birds loved it more than any of us did. Untold numbers traveled up and down and over and under that flaky gray bark. Robins built nests in the protective heights, and wrens occupied the houses we hung on the lower limbs. Even in winter the birds enjoyed the suet balls swaying with the wind and the feeder beneath the tree's sheltering arms. It was a tree for all seasons.

In spring we watched the sap flow freely while droplets glistened in the sun. Later we could stand next to the trunk and look up into rich green so luscious we were unable to see a patch of blue.

Now all that has changed, swiftly and dramatically. Three years ago we noticed that the leaves were there in numbers but not is size. We were going through the drought of 1988 and attributed the decline to "bad weather." Then last year we were appalled to see the leaves had become sparse as well, and many branches were dead. We pruned, fertilized, and injected. This spring there are no signs of recovery. Frustrated, I can only relate to home remedies. Maternal instinct prompts me to want to wrap this gnarled body in warm blankets and feed it herbal tea and chicken soup.

I simply took it for granted that this tree would always be here. It embodied my psychological need to see nature at its very best. Did the Indians love it too? Did they enjoy its symmetry and splendor as they went about their dailyy tasks and reveal in the last rays of the sun catching its golden beauty in autumn? This morning I caught myself humming "Trees," Joyce Kilmer's poem set to music. I used to plunk it out on the piano and sing along when I was a child of 10 . . .

Here I am humming it again after all these years. The subconscious plays strange tricks on us.

My sons are urban foresters. I've told them that since all else has seemed to fail, I'm going to pray. I'm starting a novena to ask God to save this magnificent creation. My sons look at me sadly shake their heads. They say, their voices soothing but their words saddened with realism, "Mom, it's doomed. We'll plant another . . . ." Tears well up, and my husband says we'll save a sturdy base and build a large picnic table over. It will be an "eternal table," he says. But I don't want an eternal table. I want an eternal tree!

I torture myself with agonizing thoughts such as, Why must it be this one? Why not that one or one of those on the hill with which we have not felt such intimacy? Just then my grandson comes walking past, babbling about the state lottery. I lash out and say, "Do you realize that I could win the largest lottery in history and not be able to buy what I want most now?" Then I'm sorry. I'm out of sorts and give him a hug.

I'm praying for a miracle . . . and miracles do happen. If the inevitable comes, I will be prepared. But I will have my own "Dirge Without Music." And like Edna St. Vincent Millay, "I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned."

Grace Goodwin of Big Bend, Wisconsin, has two sons with degrees in urban forestry, so she writes that "trees and forests are particularly dear to our hearts."
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Title Annotation:personal narrative on the sugar maple tree
Author:Goodwin, Grace
Publication:American Forests
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:898
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