The Tree

In my front yard is something beautiful. Something living. Something that sometimes reminds me of my mother.
It is a tree, about 80 feet tall, with a gnarled trunk, long limbs, and thick waxy leaves.
When we were building our little home, some twenty years ago, a hapless workman with a chainsaw tried to cut this tree down. I rushed to its rescue and stood between his chainsaw and the tree, shouting, “Turn that thing off!”
Later that day I tied a nylon ribbon around the trunk, reminding all workmen not to harm this beautiful thing.
On cool mornings I would often sit beneath the branches, reading, sipping coffee. This softwood is home to many local creatures like neighborhood cats, squirrels, lizards, butterflies, ladybugs, moths, and 52,349 birds who twitter above me and occasionally drop air-to-surface poop artillery onto my hair.
Don’t get me wrong, this tree is not exceptionally good looking. Actually, it’s average as trees go. Its bark is peppered with scars, knots, and blotchy steel-colored freckles.
It’s not especially old, either. This particular tree is pushing 50 years old, although the one in my backyard is closer to 120. Still, many of these tough trees have endured droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, and the devastation of real estate development.
The older ones have lived through eras of war, stock-market crashes, the ragtime age, the jazz age, the disco age, and these trees will survive the veritable hell that is the pop country age.
When I look at my tree I am fascinated by its tenacity. I’m told that these things are hard to kill.
There are about 210 varieties of this particular tree, they are the oldest known flowering species on planet earth. There are fossils of these flowers dating back 100 million years.
This means these plants were alive back when the Tyrannosaurus rex was calling the shots. They also predate honey bees. Which is why this tree variety is one of the select trees to rely on beetles for pollination even though, technically, beetles stink at pollination.
Most plants use bees for pollination. Your average honey bee is the college graduate of the pollination business, a sleek professional who gets the job done quickly. Beetles are more like your clumsy uncle Phil, who was supposed to go to the supermarket for toilet paper but got distracted and returned home with a case of Michelob and a paddle-ball toy.
But somehow it works.
The flowers on this tree are incredible. If you’re lucky enough to see this tree bloom in late March or April, it will bless your heart. The cream-colored blossoms are like a woman’s palms, cupped upward to heaven, waiting for something to fall from the sky.
But they are not dainty. That’s just a trick of the eye. These delicate-looking blossoms are anything but flimsy. They have leathery petals and can endure disagreeable weather.
And when the sun rises, I sit beneath this tree looking upward into its branches, watching daylight filter through the canopy of chlorophyll-choked foliage.
The tree is steadfast. It is strong. It reminds me of strength. Of resilience. But most of all, it reminds me of people like you.
Yes, you. You’ve been kicked around a lot in your life. You’ve been whipped by people and circumstances that seemed stronger than you were. But they were not stronger. Neither were your problems too great. Your roots are deep.
But you were built for more than mere endurance. And you prove this each spring when you bloom so prettily, so arrestingly, so proudly, that people sometimes stop just to sigh at you.
That’s your purpose, you see. You were put here to be beautiful. You were made to grow tall, to sway in the wind, to soak in sunlight.
So when some fool with a chainsaw arrives and threatens to harm your base, you can laugh at your adversaries because you’re protected.
Immediately, you will see a guy running to your rescue, shouting, “Turn that chainsaw off!” This young man will stand between you and your enemy with arms outward to protect your lovely branches.
Then he will tie a ribbon around your slender waist because he would rather die than see you fall. Because you are a magnificent magnolia.
Just like his mother.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist, novelist and stand-up storyteller known for his commentary on life in the American South. His column appears in newspapers throughout the U.S. He has authored 15 books.