Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 18, 2013

Ash to ashes

While we were away for the holidays, we lost an old friend.

But we didn't learn about it at the time. Husband Art, youngest daughter Katie and I returned home a couple of Saturdays ago after spending a week visiting his relatives in Appleton, Wis. We arrived late, unpacked a few things and then hit the hay.

I enjoy going to different places, but it's always nice to get home. So, I took my time getting up the next morning. When I finally decided to crawl out of bed, Art had already been awake for some time. He was working on his laptop in the living room when I wandered out to greet him. His first words surprised me.

"Look out the kitchen window," he said.

When I did, I gasped.

While we were in Wisconsin, the trunk of the ash tree Art planted when he moved into the house in 1977 had snapped. The top was resting on the steps leading to our deck.

"Oh, no, my little ash tree," I said, my words trailing away.

It was on the south side just outside our bedroom window. Throughout the year, I often awakened to birds fluttering in its branches. It had also provided great shade during the summers.

But Art knew the tree was special to me. In April of 1997, I came home after spending three months in three different hospitals while being treated for a serious auto-immune disease. I still tired easily and napped a lot. For me, that tree became a symbol of renewal and its loss especially touched my heart.

In an April 2007 column - 10 years after my hospital experience - I wrote about my recovery and the ash tree:

"Before I drifted off to sleep and as soon as I woke up, I looked out the south window of our bedroom at the ash tree. When I first returned home, its branches were bare. But day by day and week by week, the leaves came, transforming its crown into a green canopy. And I felt myself healing and transforming, too. So spring may have more meaning for me than for some. And every April, as the ash tree 'comes back' from its winter dormancy, I silently give thanks that I also came back from mine."

I wrote about it again in 2011 after tree trimmers came out to remove a row of dead pine trees in our yard. The trimmers wanted to take the ash tree down, too, but Art and I both said "no." However, winter ice storms and summer winds the last few years had damaged a lot of our trees, so we agreed they could do some selective pruning.

We were pleased when the ash tree budded and leafed out that summer and again in 2012. Just recently, I looked out and saw sparrows flitting from branch to branch.

Thankfully, the tree had missed most of the house. And while some of its branches came to rest on our air conditioner unit, it didn't do any damage. When Art removed them, I asked him to cut me a small piece to keep as a reminder.

Our neighbors have a small wood-burning stove they use to heat their basement. So I called Jim and asked if he would like to cut the tree up and keep the wood. When I arrived home from work a day later, he and his children were hauling the last of it to their place.

In its 35 years, it gave good shade, provided a home for birds and reminded me that spring follows the winter. And now, just as with some people whose life's work is done, my little ash tree will become ashes.

The ash being trimmed in 2011, left, and today.

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