So Much Sky

An excerpt from my empty nest essay, appearing in the latest issue of “Under the Sun” literary journal.

The note appears hooked to the knob of my front door, a warning. The emerald ash borer disease has ravaged the hundred-year-old stately ash trees lining our road, and our city has decided to take them all down. The forty trees that spread their canopies over the length of six blocks like cupped protective hands will be removed as a permanent solution to cure the infestation. The city offers a plan to replace the trees in the spring with saplings, but how do you replace a tree that took a hundred years or more to grow its roots down deep while sending branches toward the heavens?  And saplings come with no guarantee of surviving even one brutal Chicago winter with its hostile winds and temperatures.

Gusty autumn winds have already stripped the trees bare. I stare at the silhouetted branches most days as I come and go, as I stand in the living room holding a warm cup of tea, watching neighbors walk their dogs. The demise of the trees creates grief as I prepare to say goodbye to their shade that protects me while I read in the yard, goodbye to the whispers I hear through my open window on windy days, the haunting call of leaves brushing together like two hands meeting in applause.

Then one day as I study the silhouette of the trees against a gray November sky, I see something settled into the meeting place of several branches, many dark and dense objects cupped in those tree limbs. Empty nests—and lots of them. In the warmer weather, a city-sized community lives just above our heads, hidden from sight. Maybe former birds’ nests or squirrel’s nests, but all that matters in my mind is the picture of these shelters once formed by a mother to protect her young and prepare them for life, built with twigs and leaves and probably even a few gum wrappers – whatever it takes. CONTINUE READING HERE