If I have a happy place, or melancholy place, or sometimes an indifferent place it is in Big Meadows within Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park where one of the most southern disjunct gray birch trees resides. I have been visiting this tree for many years and it is very special to me. The only person who knows how much I adore this tree is my wife. It is a place where I can study the seasons, reflect on the past and contemplate the present moment.
I can be contradictory here, and it doesn’t matter. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes analytical. I like to bring certain people to the tree, my brother for example. However with the popularity of public lands, I like to think of this as “my tree.” I know it is not, but when I see fresh carvings during the busy season, I will admit, it makes me angry.
I’ve shared moments of great joy in front of this tree. The jitters a week before my wedding; defending my master’s thesis; and after learning my wife was pregnant.
But also moments of grief; reflecting on the loss of loved ones.
My high school no longer exists; it is now an apartment complex. The tree is where I go to “roam the halls.” My classmates? The deer and the occasional songbird.
The tree reminds me that time is always moving forward, and to appreciate this moment.
But as every winter eventually makes way to spring, these changes also reflect on the purpose of my work. The tree has been a friend, my confidant, my time capsule, and always reminds me that there are amazing things on this planet. Such as trees of the north having disjunct populations in the central Appalachians. Now my daughter can experience that too.