Jeanne Eagle's Tree
The morning was crisp, dew wet my boots. The birds had been singing since before light and the air was filled with the sweetness of leaves and grass and meadow flowers. The summer had been long, dry and exceptionally hot. There is always one morning after a long summer when you know that fall has truly arrived; this was the one. I looked out over the meadow and there was Jeanne's tree, as always standing tall. It is a red oak, hit by lightening and then broken by a hurricane last summer. Still it ascended high above the earth with two large branches and another, broken and dead hanging from the west side. Our neighbors all said we would lose it, but the tree continued to survive despite it all and I knew it would because it is Jeanne's tree.
My sister, Jeanne, was diagnosed with a brain tumor a couple of years ago. After the devastating news, I ran to the meadow and screamed and screamed and screamed and beat the ground with my fist. I was always afraid to ask "why", but I was so tempted. The meadow's coolness calmed me and I was able to come back to my senses. I lay on the hard meadow floor, filled with rage and sorrow and my tears seemed endless. The lullaby played by the wind and trees soothed my soul and after a long while, I was able to return to the house and then begin the long journey of a year, almost to the day, that would take my sister's life.
She was a beautiful girl, a woman really, with five children, but to me a girl, being nine years younger and the fifth of six children. She was so intelligent and her sense of humor sent you squealing with laughter at times. Her serious side was very logical. She was a mother above all and a sister one could be proud to say she knew; even as a stranger or friend, people were drawn by her uniqueness. Jeanne married Bill who was American Indian. He gave her the name Jeanne Eagle. She certainly was an eagle, strong and full of flight, nesting in the important places of her life, raising children and getting older. After Bill died and left her a young widow, she nourished all who were around her with her wisdom and grace, refusing to give up or complain. She went to college and graduated and a few months before her diagnosis got her Master's degree in advanced math. Her life it seemed had just begun again. She met Norman, a lovely man with a very dry sense of humor and a lust for traveling. It seemed the perfect match. And then the diagnosis. The rest of Jeanne's story lies with the family, but her courageous life and death inspired my story and named my tree, the tree which gives me hope beyond imagining and a sense of deeper things given us which we don't understand.
On this morning, I am standing in the meadow , remembering when the oak got hit by lightening. It was a January morning, cold and wet. It matched my feelings of sadness for my sister. There was bark strewn all over the meadow. Where in the world did that come from and what could have happened? As though a large peeler had come down from the sky, the tree had been peeled from a top branch to the ground like a giant potato and the peeling, the bark, scattered askew like some tossed trash on a highway. I could not believe my eyes! After I realized the cause, I was struck with wonder and for days I could not stop looking at the oak and going to it each day to pray and talk. One afternoon, standing there touching its trunk ever so tenderly, a voice said, "This is Jeanne's tree and it will not die." What?? Jeanne's going to live??? What?? I thought "what a cruel joke", but then a calm and certain knowledge came to me, one I will never be able to explain, that Jeanne would not die. I saw her as the eagle nesting high in the oak's branches. It is her tree, her nest, her home. I hung onto that promise for a year, but Jeanne's earthly life indeed ended. The solace of the oak kept me company for many months. Jeanne Eagle lives in the tree, and the tree has not died.
On this morning also, I am looking at another oak which must be at least 100 years old. Its leaves have turned brown and it is slowly dying. The heat from the summer was too much for this old tree, and when the rain began a month ago, it simply drown. I look to Jeanne's tree standing tall, broken limbs, and wonder what it thinks about its brother not 50 yards away, dying. Do trees cry? Do they weep for one another when one is lost from the meadow or forest? Standing tall and majestic Jeanne's tree seems to say, yes, it makes me weep to lose my friend, my brother, but I am here to grace your meadow. I am here to sing the wind's songs and protect and shade you. I have withstood lightening and wind and rain, all dangers sent my way just for you, just for you. Afterall, I am Jeanne Eagle's tree.