I visit on the phone with my ninety-one-year-old Dad every day and go to see him several times a week. Without fail our conversations include some talk about the stand of poplar trees outside the window of his apartment. He can judge the strength of the wind by looking at how much the trees are swaying. In spring he took careful note of the progress of the poplars’ leaves unfurling and talked often about how he watched the landscaping crew prune the trees. He notices birds in the poplars’ branches and squirrels and rabbits by their roots.
Early one morning this week, before the day got too hot, Dad and I were sitting out on his balcony having coffee. Dad interrupted our conversation to ask me if I could hear the breeze rustling the leaves of the poplars. He actually got a little teary as we sat quietly listening to the wind create a song in the poplars and then he said, “Those trees are sacred to me.” Dad, who is struggling with dementia, seemed sort of surprised at his comment and asked me what sacred meant. I told him sacred meant something holy or respected, something connected to God. He nodded.
I’ve been thinking about why Dad would regard those poplars outside his window as sacred. I’m wondering if it is because during the height of the pandemic those trees became a kind of lifeline to the outside world for him, a connection to something beyond the almost solitary confinement in which he found himself because we couldn’t visit him at his assisted living seniors facility and he had to stay in his room and not have contact with any of the other residents of his building. Now, even though he is allowed more interaction with other people, the trees remain sacred to him.
My Dad grew up on a farm, so he was always very connected to nature and the outdoors. His family’s property was surrounded by Russian olive trees. The two homes he and my mother built had huge yards with plenty of trees. I think those half a dozen poplars outside his window remind Dad of those places.
I think I understand why he’d say, “Those trees are sacred to me.”