The Alder Tree

By Shobha Rao

  • 1
Categories: Alum Experiences, Garden & Grounds,

It was yellow, shaped like a balloon, and at the far edge of the meadow.  I sat at the window seat in Oak Cabin, all day and most of the night, watching it.  It was not more or less beautiful than the rest of the grounds at Hedgebrook:  the cattail pond, the cedar grove, the farmhouse with its warm kitchen, the silent trees that stood so still and majestic, but this tree drew my attention.  It was at the very end of my line of vision, and though I didn’t know the names of any of the trees, I really only wanted to know the name of this one.  I realized I could’ve asked anyone – anyone at all – and learned the name.  But I never did.  I didn’t have to.  It would reveal itself to me, as I revealed myself to it.  Through the long, hushed nights, when the crackle of the fire was the only sound, I would stare at the tree and wonder.  All those empty roads, all those aching years, writing and writing and writing.  Wondering if they would ever come to anything.  Wondering if I was good enough, talented enough, lucky enough.  Hedgebrook was the greatest gift I had ever received in my writing life, yet what if it was the last of my share?

A few times, I walked across the meadow, through the dewy grass, and stood alongside it.  I looked back across the meadow at the window seat.  If I squinted, I could see myself.  Sitting and looking back at me.  The woman sitting there – back in Oak Cabin – looked so small and so lonely that I wanted to gather her in my arms.  Rock her like a baby.  Tell her she was already good enough, talented enough, lucky enough.  But the distance was too great, even with all the loveliness and comfort and generosity of Hedgebrook.  So I looked away.

After the first two weeks of my stay, I began to talk to it.  Mid-morning, I would look up from my writing and say, I think I’ll go for a walk, want to join?  The tree would rustle its leaves.  Once, when the frogs woke me in the middle of the night, I looked out of the window and there it was, silver and glowing, drenched in moonlight.  I like your gown, I said.  During the third week of my stay, there was a thunderstorm.  Nothing unusual for Whidbey Island, but this one had real strength.  It rattled the branches of all the trees, swung at them like baseball bats.  Clumps of leaves fell and thumped the roof of my cabin.  The cattails in the pond whipped in the wind.  Once it had passed, I looked to the far side of the meadow and said, Are you okay?  And the tree looked back and said, Are you?

Here is how it happened:  my last week in Oak Cabin, I picked up one of the journals and turned to where I had left off.  I had read most of them, in the course of my stay, and this was one of the last ones.  And on the page I turned to, in an entry dated many years ago, a woman had written, “You see that tree in the distance?  That is an alder tree.”  I looked up and smiled.  I said, Hello, Alder Tree.  The alder tree seemed to smile back.  Since it was only polite, I thought I would introduce myself, as well.  I faced the alder tree, and on my last night at Hedgebrook, and because of Hedgebrook, I said, I am a writer.  The alder tree did not seem all that surprised.  It simply bent in the breeze, like a monk at prayer.  How nice, the alder tree said, Now we both know.

 

 

Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

1 Comment

  • Judith Podell
    2:15 PM - 6 June, 2014

    Brings me back to my memories of Fir cottage and our paths crossing.

    It’s a challenge to stay in what I privately think of as Hedgebrook Mind, that feeling of absolute safety and connection where one can talk to the trees out loud and expect an answer.

Leave a Comment