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November 5, 2009

This Wonderful Life: A view through bare branches

Every morning, Bee and I stand at the end of the driveway waiting for her bus and we look up into the branches of the elm tree that arches over the drive.

We started this little ritual back in the spring, when the first signs of new leaves appeared like green knuckles up and down the long branches.

``Look,’’ I said to her.

``Soon the tree will be covered with leaves, and we won’t be able to see a bit of sky through them.’’

Sure enough, bright green leaves sprouted and spread until the tree offered a cool canopy. Peering up through the branches was like looking into a verdant kaleidoscope, a mosaic of greens and yellows and tiny flecks of blue sky.

In summer, of course, we found little reason to stand at the foot of the driveway for any length of time. Sure, we might venture to the mailbox or pass through that general area on our way to throw rocks into the creek or walk to our neighbor’s pond and listen to the frog symphony. But we never took the time to see how summer had changed the view upward through the elm branches.

But then autumn came around, and with it a new school year and a new daily opportunity to view the world from the foot of an elm tree.

In early September, the tree already was giving us a show — a bright yellow leaf here, another leaf orange and brown, and yet another looking for all the world like a green and red holiday ornament.

Bee claimed she was collecting autumn leaves, and for many mornings, she would find her favorite, and give it to me to add to her collection after she had gotten on the bus.

``But wait there until the bus is gone,’’ she told me.

``Don’t walk back to the house until after the bus leaves.’’

I promised.

The elm tree is one of her favorites because, according to Bee and her dad, fairies live there. Or maybe they’re faeries. However they self-identify, Bee is certain of their existence because, on very, very cold winter mornings when her Papa takes her down to the bus stop, the two of them help the fairies keep warm by blocking their knot-hole doorway with a stick. Later on in the day, when the fairy house warms up, the fairies push the stick out of the doorway to the ground, where Bee finds it the next morning.

You should know that our lawn is well-populated by fairies. In the summertime, Bee and Posey and I build them little garden shelters. We make beds of moss and set pine bark tables with buttercup tea sets. We always add some signal or flag so the fairies will know that we’ve created a safe place for them where they won’t be bothered by cats or chickens or dogs.

After we’ve built the fairy shelters, we check them over the next days and weeks for signs of habitation. Bee is particularly adept at spotting fairy magic — a sort of vapor trail they leave in their wake.

``They were here,’’ she will declare. ``I can see their magic.’’

This week, Bee and I have stood under the elm tree looking skyward, and we have noticed how very little there is standing between us and the view beyond. Not one leaf remains on the tree. It seems Winter does not ask permission from me, or from Bee or from the shivering fairies before unpacking its bags and settling in for a long, long stay. It’s kind of a bully and a boor, that Winter.

A difficult and expensive house guest who comes unannounced with no clear plans for leaving.

I began to think of snow tires and oil bills and evenings that grow dark before the end of a banker’s workday. I sighed.

Next to me, Bee sighed too, but hers was more wistful, more like the sigh one makes settling into a feather bed or a bubble bath.

``Maybe Dad can make a fire tonight,’’ she beamed up at me with an excited grin. I could tell that she was thinking of mittens and sledding and snowmen.

``That would be perfect,’’ I told her.

Okay, Winter. You can come in. The guest room is yours, and I’ve laid out extra towels. Leave your shoes by the front door and don’t monkey with the thermostat without asking.

Elizabeth Trever Buchinger hopes you’re as cozy and warm as the Elm Fairies. You can connect with her at www.moremindfulfamily.