What Does Loss Smell Like?

Late last week we had an ice storm. It wasn’t as bad as earlier storms this winter, but it was just enough to finish off one of our tall white pines. One evening, we heard a loud CRACK and a BOOMMM. In the morning, we found that a tree had “topped” itself onto the fence in a rather spectacular way.

The tree, along with several others on our property, were planted as seedlings 50 years ago. The builder of our subdivision provided them to help repopulate the development with trees. (It’s one of the reasons we love our home and yard so much… so many trees!)

Today the tree company came and directed their crew as they removed the damaged tree, and the one next to it, since it had lost several large branches from the storm as well. As our arborist daughter told us, the trees were at the end of their life span. They both needed to come down.

This evening I walked outside and looked at the place where they had grown for so many years. The air was heavy with the scent of pine. The massive stumps left behind were the only testament to their former presence. Suddenly we had a much larger piece of sky overhead! I knew it was a necessary task; both trees had a lot of rot in the upper trunks. I saw a cross-section of one tree and it was hollow in the middle. Yikes!! Because of their height, they could have fallen and smashed a lot more than a fence…

Large pieces of tree trunk from a felled tree.

I stared at the ground, suddenly fully visible by the loss of these trees. Over the years, they have been part of the “squirrel highway” in our back yard. Red shouldered hawks have perched to check out our local cuisine. Pileated woodpeckers feasted on insects, and brought their young to forage with them. And on more than one night, a barred owl hooted, just a silhouette against the night sky.

We can’t replace these things. We can talk about them… look at photos… tell stories… But that is all in the past. There is a sense of loss, a growing awareness of what we will be missing.

I thought for a while about this loss, and about grief in general. What I have learned is that it is wise to appreciate life’s moments as they happen, and to be thankful. To be aware when the changes come, and accept them. And to look for what new thing God might next be doing in our midst.

Life changes at a radical pace… The trees can’t be replaced. But I can begin to imagine what might now thrive and grow there with the extra sunlight. Tomatoes? A fruit tree? The dense shade of the pines precluded planting much in that area. Now we have some options! But first, there’s a little groundwork to do. We need to repair the fence and make decisions about the future plantings. And that will all come. In time.

For the moment, I am left with the smell of grief. And the promise that new things will grow… soon. All on God’s timeline.

What does loss smell like? I think it smells like the sweet, pungent smell of pine sawdust…

Picture of two large tree stumps.

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