Editor’s Note: What My Tree Saw

Reader's Digest editor-in-chief Liz Vaccariello finds inspiration in an American elm with deep roots.

By Liz Vaccariello from Reader's Digest Magazine | April 2013

Liz VaccarielloPhotograph by Steve Vaccariello; Wardrobe Stylist: Elysha Lenkin
The older woman, Elaine, stands under me, waiting for the younger woman to arrive and take the keys. She wears her ruby scarf, the one she wears when she’s tired. She’s been up all night moving out her family’s things.

I listen. “Thirty years in this home,” Elaine tells the younger woman, her voice cracking. “We raised our two daughters here. It’s even harder to say goodbye than I’d expected.”

Elaine is happy the buyers are another young family, with two daughters.

She’s told the younger couple about me. I’m special. I’m a 250-year-old American elm, and I’ve watched lives play out here since the house was built near me in 1923. Starting in the 1930s, a blight killed all my cousins on this street—and in most of America. Tree groupies visit me every few years to make sure I’m all right. Walkers stop to marvel at the size of my canopy, which covers the roof and ends halfway across the street.

There is a price to be paid for my beauty: The grass under me will never be emerald because of the shade I cast. As long as I’m alive, solar panels are not an option for the house beside me. The squirrels find my springtime seeds scrumptious, causing me to drop a carpet of broken branches and leaves that even the most relentless raking can’t keep clear. Removing a nearby underground oil tank required Elaine and her husband to destroy the driveway so as not to harm my roots.

I like the new family. The mother has chosen her office because it offers a view of my massive, gnarled limbs. I’ve met the new children, three-year-old girls. One of them, Olivia, will grow to love trees. In a few years, she will sit under me when she needs someone to understand her. She’ll tell her parents she wants to live in the jungle.

Elaine hands over the keys and turns away. “I’m very emotional.”

“Don’t worry,” says the new mother. “We’ll fill it with love too.”

They’re off to a good start. I’ve been watching.

—Liz, @LizVacc, Liz@rd.com

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