Sunday, March 27, 2016

Handful of dust

There was a sweetgum tree in our backyard that was small when we built our house in 1983. Through the years, it provided shade, from the brutal summer sun and speckled autumn leaves that were beautiful. 

It had its downside too. The sweetgum tree was a species that took procreation to heart. Its seed pods looked like tiny spiked balls. They reminded me of the spike balls used as medieval torture devices. 

This tree dropped MILLIONS of them each year. When I ran over them with the lawnmower, it sounded like popcorn popping underneath.

Then about ten years ago, a storm swept through as they do from time to time and hurricane-force straight-line winds did Mother Natures dirty work. When the sun came back out, all the weak trees in our yard had blown down or been topped.  Part of the sweetgum tree fell on the roof of our house. 

We contacted a tree service and they came, taking down several trees that were damaged or leaning toward the house. The sweetgum was one of them.

Most of the trees were cut off at ground level leaving no stump, but I thought I might build a tabletop and use the trunk as the "legs" for the backyard table, so they left it waist high.

Well, the tabletop never happened, but we spent a lot of time in the backyard and used the tree trunk through the years for a variety of things. It seemed as though it would be here forever.

But then last year the bark began to peel off, and the wood that had seemed so solid was as soft as pulp.

Today after our walk, I sat for a while on the benches around the fire pit to cool off. I realized the sweetgum stump was returning to the earth. Pulling the phone from my pocket, I snapped a few pictures because I liked the contrast of color. Soon I'll bring the tractor up and move what's left of the old sweetgum tree to the pile of things to burn.

I know this is weird, but as I looked at this old stump, I thought about life. We are here for a while, and do some good work, but we can also be a pain in the butt at times. Then life hits you like a train. After you leave this old earth, all that's left are photographs, a few memories in the minds of those who love you, and a handful of dust.


  1. Anonymous8:51 PM

    Don't start me crying over the life of a sweetgum tree!!

  2. We used to have fights with the sticker balls and were a pain in the butt to clean out of a yard.

  3. Not many people can look at a tree stump and turn it into a parable of life...well done.

    We had a tree that dropped similar spiked balls when I was in school, not sure if it was a sweetgum or not, I learned to play golf whacking those things around the yard. Probably why i have trouble breaking 100 today.

  4. The poor tree is returning to the earth from where it came. We will too...all of us will but I hope I will be more than a picture one finds at the flea market with people wondering who this was once.

  5. I feel almost like that stump is a part of your family. This is the first time I remember you writing about it and I miss it already. Your literary skills were peaking when you wrote this.

  6. I gardened public places for 35 years and dealt with liquidambar styraciflua every year. The rains came at night, and in the morning the spikey balls would have floated like barbed corks to plug up street drains. I worked with rake and shovel to unflood thoroughfares with wary motorists showering me with their wakes. These trees also enjoy growing to great heights and falling apart. Nothing sweet about them but I sure like your post.

  7. What a great comparison. We were dust and once again will be dust. Happy Easter !

  8. This is so true! How I want the legacy I leave behind to be one that is God-saturated, sprinkled steadily with memories of kind deeds and loving actions! Your post reminds me of the song by Billy Dean, "We're Only Here For A Little While". God, help us to make the most of the moments while they are happening.

  9. You are so right in your deep thoughts. Life goes quickly and the end is as sure a happening as taxes. I'm betting your life will be long remembered with your words and music and photos..much more than dust in the wind! Love the pic! Love the post!

  10. A Eulogy for a Sweetgum! As someone who has had Gums in the yards of a couple homes, they are NEVER FORGOTTEN. You did a masterful job of weaving in a great life comparison. SWEET(gum). Now, even thinking of the Gums in our lives, I am smiling.

  11. That's why I paint and write, to leave something behind when I'm dust.

  12. I think that is why I write Rick... I want much more than dust left after I am gone... I was thinking exactly what you wrote as you talked about the tree... xox

  13. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes--pretty much says it all.
    I personally hate sweet gum trees. There were an amazing number on my school 15 years ago. That spike balls are things to fear, esp. when they are on the cusp of green to dark.

    I also want to leave more than ashes. My writing I hope is valued by my family in such a way that they will appreciate me and my talents. Photos are all digital now, so no hard copy will be found by my gr-grandchildren. That saddens me.

  14. Lots of food for thought in your post today. Photos and music are great legacy to leave behind.
    Have a great week.

  15. Gorgeous photo! Lots of thought today!!

  16. Nothing lasts for ever although many trees seem like they do

  17. Lovely, lovely. I'm always sad to see a tree go, though. I don't even like cutting off branches. There's something about a tree . . .


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