A Flock of Leaves

Madrona trees skirting a saltwater beach and holding back a stand of fir trees.

Madrona trees skirting a saltwater beach and holding back a stand of fir trees.

I couldn’t make sense out of it. How could a young man shoot down ten people in a church, killing nine of them, simply because of the color of their skin? Simply because they were different from him? Setting aside the loss and horror, the act was strange, unnatural, and it unsettled me. And yet as I thought about it, I could see similar symptoms in other parts of our country.

The next day, two days before the solstice signaling the start of summer, I took my walk along the bay. I was glad I’d worn a sweater–the morning had missed the Summer’s Here! message and it was chilly.

Suddenly I stopped–just ahead of me was a huge old madrona tree beside the water. A gust of wind had shaken just the top of the tree and what looked like a flock of hundreds of birds flew up into the air and over the water. Were they birds or leaves? This was not a falling leaves season. They hovered high in the air, even above the tree, for just a few moments. Would they fly off to a friendlier beach? Then they fluttered down ever so gently onto the water, answering my question. I stood there for a minute or two, wondering at what I had seen.

Several diseases have hit many of our madrona trees in the past decade or two. These beautiful trees, our only native broadleafed evergreen tree, are often found beside saltwater bays. They have a shaggy, stringy bark that falls off to reveal a glossy, smooth, golden brown trunk. It’s sad to see them start losing leaves, then limbs, until only an old stump remains. I’ve noticed several dead ones along my walk over the years, including one on my beach.

Was this just a normal dropping of leaves or was it the beginning of the end for the tree, one of the few healthy ones remaining on this stretch of beach?

Diseases can spread and kill–a tree or a group of people.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/95721592@N00/5683604819″>Lopez Island point</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;