The River Birch Trees

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There are three river birch trees that surround our home. I planted them three years after I built this house.

River birches are pretty trees. They grow long, toward the sky, and spread a beautiful canopy of shade. The trunks are interesting and artistic as the bark is constantly curling into pieces. The mint-colored leaves are smallish and they flitter lovely in the light breezes of spring.

But…

Those trees are constantly pruning themselves, especially during Winter’s cold bitterness and harsh rain storms. It is a long, constant parade for me — of dragging eight-foot limbs and armloads of twigs and sticks to the burn pile which is up the hill and through a woodsy pass-through to the ever expanding mound.

One day, my sister and brother-in-law stopped by. Both always offer one or two assessments of things we need to do on the Rondarosa. Every bit is the truth but the reality lies in that — to completely control the kudzu, thistle, and polk sallet that springs up — we would have to quit our full-time jobs as writers. So, I’ve come to welcome kudzu and look upon it as decoration, much like the honeysuckle that grows beside and in-between it.

On this particular day, Rodney, standing in the drive, looked up at a river birch limb that had grown up against a second story window and doubled itself back a foot or two.

“Ronda, whatta’ you gonna do about that limb? It needs to be cut away from the house.”

Knowledge is the beginning of wisdom. The Good Book says that.

I shrugged. “I’m gonna leave it alone and let it prune itself.” He eyed me cynically, giving a small shake of his head as though it wasn’t going to happen.

It took two or three months but, sure enough, one day I went out and discovered that just the right portion of that big limb had snapped away and fallen to the moss-covered ground below. A paid landscaper could not have done it better.

Sometimes, as I gather up the limbs, as the dogs sniff for the latest signs of the seven deer who live in the surrounding woods, I think, “If only I could prune my life and possessions as easily as the river birch trims itself.”

I have a hard time letting go of the simple things that remind me of people who have crossed my path and, especially, those I’ve loved. Every time someone leaves this world and is a person embedded in my heart, I ask the family for something that belonged to them. By which to remember them.

Fifteen years ago, I was doing a reading at a book store – something I rarely do because usually I tell stories over reading – and there, in the front row, was a face flush with sweetness amidst a mass of white hair. She was, it turned out, a regular patron of the store and at 92, was still driving herself.

When the event ended, she eased over to me and said in a lilting Southern voice, “Honey, I could listen to you all day. If you only knew how much and how often your writings entertain me. Thank you.” She took my hand in her soft, aged one and I felt her pressing money into my palm.

I had never had that happen. My eyes widened and my mouth popped open to protest. But something stopped me. Knowledge that has turned into wisdom. She was giving not because she expected I needed the money but she wanted to say, “thank you.”

It was two ten-dollar bills. I determined I’d buy something special with them so I would always remember her.

I never found anything. Today, I still have them tucked away in a place where I see them regularly and I always think back to that dear, sweet lady.

That’s when I sometimes think: Why prune sentiment and sweetness from my life?

[Ronda Rich is the bestselling Southern author of “St. Simons Island: A Stella Bankwell Mystery.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletters.]