My family and I live in the house where I grew up. Anyone who knows us well enough knows and appreciates the Heartnut tree in our backyard. I love that tree. I’ve had a bond with it since childhood. I used to climb it, wrap my arms around its scratchy bark, breathe in the waxy scent of its leaves. I spent many summer evenings up in its branches until I was called in to bed.
I envisioned this tree while I was in the hospital in labour with my daughter. It was a Technicolor trip aided by a good ol’ snort of nitrous oxide (Woo Hoo!), which left me convinced that I had, without a doubt, graduated from Tree Hugger to Tree Whisperer.
Its beautiful craggy bark spoke to me in my vision, assured me that the future would be good, that all of us, including the baby and the future baby (Holy crap! There was going to be another one??) would be just fine. “Trust. Trust and breathe,” it told me. “Breathe. My leaves bring you air.”
The tree was a volunteer that sprang from a compost heap on the property over 50 years ago, before I was born. We believe it’s a relative of the Walnut. In summer, fuzzy yellow catkins hang languidly from its branches. The nuts are brown and heart shaped, and the lining of their outer casings is fleshy and white just like a Walnut’s.
Squirrels consider these nuts a delicacy and can be seen in September scurrying along telephone lines, carrying the nuts like conkers, two at a time, as though they’re performing a high wire act in the circus. They hide them from each other: bury them hurriedly in planters by the front stairs, under the crumbling bonsai shelter on the patio.
The Heartnut is now well over 40 feet tall. We have to hire an arborist to take care of the lofty branches. He looks like he belongs in the same circus as the squirrels: a trapeze artist swinging from the limbs without a care in the world. Whack, whirr, whack. I can’t watch — it makes me dizzy.
I love how the sunlight turns its leaves into a golden canopy. How, as twilight approaches, the tree’s shadows lengthen protectively along the grass.
When I was little, I sifted sand, dug trenches, made moats and mud pies under that tree. I dressed the dogs in fancy hats fashioned from peonies and rhododendron petals that bloomed in great purple splashes beside it. And even then I knew somehow that I was safe. Safe in the constancy and knowledge of that tree, a random gift from Mother Earth.
All photos © Margaret Blackwood