Tree of life


It wasn’t supposed to grow this big.

Before my youngest was born, we added on to our home to provide the space we needed as our family grew. We planted what was supposed to be a small to middlin’ serviceberry tree in the backyard.

Our family definitely grew, from small boys who toddled around that tree to middle schoolers who had Nerf-gun wars around it with their friends, to teens who backed out the car next to it (and thankfully never hit it).

As my family grew, so did the tree. It’s gotten more than twice the size it was supposed to be and some branches now reach out so far that they almost touch my back deck.

It’s a gorgeous tree, one a landscaper told me I could get a pretty penny for if I wanted to sell it. I don’t.

You see, it’s not just a gorgeous tree. It’s a giving tree.

Did you ever read Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”? For those of you who haven’t, a quick synopsis: A tree and a boy develop a relationship. The tree gives the boy its apples, its shade, and so much more—to the point that when the boy is an old man, the tree is just a stump. But the boy sits on the stump and the tree is happy, having given until it literally can’t give any more.  

Our backyard tree begins each spring with a gorgeous array of white flowers. Then, she (yes, it’s a she) grows berries each summer that the birds and bunnies feast upon. My dog loves to lie down beneath the tree (flattening my sweet woodruff) for respite from the hot summer sun. And now, for the first time, a pair of robins have set up house in her branches. It took 17 years, but the tree now has thicker foliage and can hide and support a nest.

I cursed the first time I saw the nest. The robins who built it were obviously smart optimists. They built far enough out on a limb that if the baby bird dropped, it would drop into my viburnum or soft dirt, protected by my deck on two sides. And the nest is well hidden. But every time we get a storm, I worry. As the branches sway, I bite my lip. And this tree is a virtual fast-food restaurant for birds during the early days of summer. How would they protect their nest—which is smack in the middle of the drive-through—from their hungry fellow feathered friends?

I’m a bleeding heart for animals. Basically, what these bird parents did was give me the equivalent of extra children to worry about, albeit feathered ones.

Mama and Papa seem to know we mean them no harm. They’re good parents. They’re vigilant. And fast. They’re like the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbirds of the real bird world—Mach 3+ and they do reconnaissance like nobody’s business.

But here’s the rub: I think they’ve been waiting for their eggs to hatch. Baby birds can be quite loud and I haven’t been awakened at 4 a.m. by the sound of baby bird voices. Either that or they have very introverted children.

I’ve become attached to this bird family already and I don’t even know if they’ve hatched. They hooked me from the start. First, the general messiness of their nest building. It reminded me of my messy artistic mothering. Strewn across my deck stairs for a week were failed attempts—pieces of twine, tinsel, dryer lint—a random assortment of flotsam and jetsam. The nest itself looked a mess, with twigs hanging from it. But in the weeks since its building, they’ve been doing some sprucing up. It’s a proper nest now, with proper parents holding vigil over it. I feel like this may have been the story of my parenting also—I got better at it as I went along.

I watch these birds as I pour coffee in the morning, as I sit on my deck sipping a glass of wine in the evening and random times in between. I’m rooting for them.

And then, tonight happened. As my son and I sat around the firepit, I saw a feathered body land in the middle of my tree. It was far too large and had far too white an underbelly to be anything but the immature hawk I’ve seen flying around near my front yard and the neighboring yards. Just yesterday, I saw a band of much smaller birds chase it away. But it’s getting big fast—and we all know mature hawks are not easily deterred.

If you had seen me, you would have thought I was having a fit. I jumped up from my chair, shouting and waving my arms, getting closer and closer to the tree. Hawks are hard to scare off but this one—being immature and approached by a woman who becomes an insane mother bear when vulnerable beings are at risk—flew away. I’m sure he was saying, “Geez, lady, you’re making a fool of yourself.” I didn’t care. For years, I’ve nurtured this tree and it’s thrived. I’ll be damned if the first living things it nurtures in its branches are going to get killed on my watch.

Where were those darn parents?! They are always near enough to that nest to defend it. Were they playing it cool, hoping Mr. Hawk didn’t see it? Were they taking a night off to go to the bird equivalent of dinner and a movie? Or, worst-case scenario, was I scaring off a hawk who had discovered the nest earlier and already pillaged and plundered? I’ll have to wait for tomorrow for my answer.

In the meantime, tonight, I cross my fingers and toes. If no damage was done, then the robins and I have our work cut out for us. That hawk has now discovered my giving tree and wants to partake. I don’t think he’ll soon forget it. It’s an excellent place to hide while hunting.

What he doesn’t realize is that my tree is not only a giving tree, it’s also a tree of life. The tree of life is a symbol in so many cultures and carries many meanings. It is about a connection to life itself–a reminder that you are never truly alone. It’s about growth and strength—beginning life as a small, delicate sapling and growing into its size and substance over time. I could go on about peace and rebirth but I’ll spare you; you get the idea.

This tree got bigger than it was supposed to. It grew through storms and high winds and dry seasons and icy winters. While my family may not look the same as it did when we planted our tree—having been changed by our own metaphorical weather in life—we have also thrived. Against all odds, despite the times it looked like we were going to sink instead of swim, we have thrived. We have a kinship with this tree—and any living beings it chooses to protect—that runs deep.

Looking back at our journey, I bias toward this: Hope springs eternal. It certainly did for us in life—and it’s worked thus far.

Let’s hope it works until these little hatchlings can fly away safely into the world—as my human ones are soon to do.

We may be a bit messy in our building a life, these robin parents and I, but when we do we protect it with our very souls. The least I could do for them was help out in a moment of need. Us less-than-perfect-but-trying-our-damndest-which-is-pretty-damn-good-by-the way parents need to stick together.

I hope I hear little cheeps in the morning. And I probably won’t sleep well tonight.

Wouldn’t be the first time.


57 Comments Add yours

  1. What a beautiful post. I have an affinity for trees as well. They have a special place in my heart as do the little creatures that thrive around and in them. I love your babies hatch and fledge, and that your tree continues to nurture your family and theirs. Hugs.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! Babies have flown the nest and all is well. So happy that I was able to see them learn how to use their wings :-).

  2. Love this story. I am the same way… protecting my chickens, birds and mist recently we discovered a day or two ok’d fawn curled up behind our barn. I was so worried about it and didn’t know where the mama was. I did an internet search and read that doe deer will leave their babies hidden in tall grasses and wooden areas for the first few days. The mom will leave the area so as not to attract predators to her baby. She returns at dusk and stays until dawn to nurse the fawn 😍. She does this until the fawn is strong enough and fast enough to keep up with her during the day. I was relieved a few weeks ago when I saw the mama and baby fawn eating by our apple trees so then I knew the baby had made it! 😍

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh man! Talk about motherly angst. Hiding your baby and then hoping that no one comes to kill it. Mother Nature sure is interesting. So glad the fawn was OK!

  3. Aww, I love this post so much. So glad you were keeping watch and scared that very surprised hawk away. Ha! Being alive rips your heart out but there is so much beauty surrounding us. Your tree has been a constant for you and your family, and how amazing that it is now also home to new life. This post ripped my heart out in the best possible way. 😭❤️

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you:). To add to the drama, there is now a huge hawk—literally The largest I’ve ever seen with a wing span of 3 to 4 feet – roaming the neighborhood. I am crossing my fingers and praying that he catches a lot of field mice and leaves the sweet baby birds alone.

      1. Oh no. My fingers and toes are crossed for the baby birds. 🥺

  4. Luanne says:

    I read this one yesterday, but couldn’t respond. Another very special post. I am also a fierce mama bear with animals, although I’m starting to think we should be saying mama bird instead of mama bear. Watching the tiny mama hummingbird get mad when other birds come near her babies is quite an experience! So how are the babies now?

    1. candidkay says:

      I have never seen baby hummingbirds! The full-grown adult ones are so tiny that I can’t even imagine what the babies look like. My robins have not yet hatched! But it truly must be any day now. The nest has been up there for at least two weeks.

      1. Luanne says:

        Awww. The babies look so big in pictures because you can’t even see them unless you blow the pic up a bit.

  5. mydangblog says:

    That’s a beautiful tree. Hope the robins are doing well—they’re usually pretty protective parents😊

    1. candidkay says:

      They’re divebombing all day long! Super vigilant.

      1. mydangblog says:

        Excellent news!

  6. I’m glad to see in the comments that all is well. Robins are pretty fierce little birds, so let’s hope they keep their babies safe. I love your tree and its history.

    1. candidkay says:

      Fierce is right! Is the dive bomb other birds coming to the tree, they’ve narrowly missed my head while I’m sitting reading my book on the deck several times! But I am so happy to see that all is well.

  7. Shivangi says:

    What a heart touching and gripping post! Hope the birds are safe and the hawk didn’t return. I felt deeply connected with your post❤️

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you🙏🏻. The hawk hasn’t returned yet. I’m hoping that he has found greener pastures somewhere. And the robins are back to guarding their nest 24/7. A lot of divebombing going on outside my house!

      1. Shivangi says:

        So glad! Hahaha hope to read Tree of Life part 2.👍👏

  8. Karen Lang says:

    A new book, ‘The protected tree’ by Candidkay! Trees rank very high in my world too and I love your mama bear protection of its residents. Well done 🌲🍀🌲🍀

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! I really do need to watch the documentary with Judi Dench about trees. It’s been on my list forever :-).

  9. annzimmerman says:

    Really enjoyed reading this. I could see the birds, and I could see the villainous hawk! There was suspense and drama and I was rooting for the robins! The whole story felt warm and comfortable, like I was in the backyard with you. Nice feeling. 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you😊! I hope you’re still rooting for the robins. Everybody seems alive and well. The nest is still quiet but they are guarding it ferociously. I’m thinking we have to have baby birds sometime in the next few days if they haven’t hatched already.

  10. Roy McCarthy says:

    Nice story. Trees deserve our respect and protection and it is dreadful how they are harvested for simple profit or chopped down when it inconveniences us. Yours seems a mutually happy arrangement Kristine.

    1. candidkay says:

      I may be headed Judi Dench’s way, Roy. Still haven’t seen this documentary but want to.

  11. modestly says:

    I absolutely loved this post Kristine! It has everything in it – wisdom – jeopeardy and hope. So lovely.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! I am hoping wisdom and hope prevail–and jeopardy hightails it out of town:).

  12. Super post, Kristine. I have spent my time worrying over baby birds. The only consolation I can think of is the Robins have been doing this for eons without us. I think they got it.

    1. candidkay says:

      Yes! And thank you so much for not mentioning the circle of life.😉

      1. I just lost an olive tree so I don’t want to hear about the circle of life. Thanks, Kristine.

      2. candidkay says:

        I’m sorry to hear about your tree! I understand what people are trying to say when they talk about the circle of life, but I wonder if they know how absolutely annoying it is.

      3. Hahaha. I think not. 😊

  13. suemclaren24 says:

    Love it. Do we get an update?

    1. candidkay says:

      Of course! Mama and Papa Bird have been extremely busy this morning guarding the nest. I think all is well :-).

  14. Dale says:

    That is a beautiful tree, Kristine! I do hope you get to hear and see the hatchlings.
    I love the comparison to us everyday women doing our best with our messy nests that get neater as we learn and grow.

    1. candidkay says:

      Right? Messy nest, messy life, messy desk . . . wink, wink. And then it all comes together in one big, beautiful symphony, Dale. Wait for it.

      1. Dale says:

        Abso-fricken-lutely!! 😀

  15. markbialczak says:

    I am rooting for your bird family’s eggs to give you the lovely little chirps you await, Kay! Cheers to this newest chapter of delivery from your beautiful tree. Thank you for sharing and giving me this feeling of hope and adventure.

    1. candidkay says:

      Hope continues, Mark! Mama was sitting on the nest this morning and both parents are chasing birds away from the tree again this morning. They are fierce, that’s for sure:).

      1. markbialczak says:

        Hooray for the protective instincts, Kay.

      2. candidkay says:

        Us parents have to stick together, feathered or human😀.

  16. Lovely story Kristine. You’re a proud and protective mama.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! And the best part–mama was on the nest this morning! All is well:).

  17. srbottch says:

    Nice tree. We have a couple of nice trees which makes me wonder why some sort of small sparrow decided to builds its nest on our front door wreath. Now, our attractive front door has streaks of white bird poop streaking down our glass panes. Can’t wait for their exit so we can use the door. Nevertheless, I enjoy reaching up with my camera and clicking a couple of shots to make sure they’re okay. By the way, im trying to figure out the gender of our Maple tree…

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh man, Steve! I’ve heard of birds nesting and front porches but never within the wreath on the door. Probably not their brightest move😄.

      1. srbottch says:

        Not only, but 1 of 4 is a ‘cowbird’ and, apparently, it’s protected. If I tried to move it, I’m looking at 10-20 in the ‘big house’. 🙀

      2. candidkay says:

        Not the best way to spend your golden years, I agree😂

      3. srbottch says:

        ‘Golden years’? Yikes, that’s the first time I’ve heard that term used in a sentence with the word ‘your’. Nooooooo, it’s all downhill now🙀🙀🙀

  18. Jaya says:

    Your post is beautiful and really resonates with me. We have recently had sunbirds build a nest on our clothes line, and were privileged to be witness to the whole process from nest building to young ones flying away.
    Your scaring away the hawk was me scaring away a sparrow and a squirrel from coming close to ‘our’ nest.

    1. candidkay says:

      I love knowing that there are a cadre of us around the world :-). Looking insane while we scare the predators away. If only we could do that for people and not just baby birds.

  19. Miriam says:

    I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed too. And I’d have done the same thing as you, protecting those little innocents like a fierce momma bear. Such a beautiful tree and I thoroughly enjoyed your post. 💚

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, one fierce mama bear to another🙂!

  20. Shel Silverstein!! Love!! What a beautiful tree. 🌳

    1. candidkay says:

      Me too:). From “Where the Sidewalk Ends” to so much more.

      1. That was my favorite. I had a copy and memorized some of the poems to impress my English teachers 😂 My favorite poem was about the coins. It has been a long time since I heard about him. Brought some warm fuzzy feelings. 💛 I love your post.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this post. Drop me a line.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s