What Befalls Us

By. Elizabeth Garden

I was waiting for our friends to join me on the back porch, thinking about the cover of my book. My book promotions expert, a man I’ve never met in person, had just advised to change the cover. It wasn’t engaging enough, he said. Too static.

The cone-shaped hydrangeas in the garden had already turned rust colored, reminding me this was the first time I’d been out there since those blossoms were white. I had forgotten how beautiful it was just to sit there and look and listen, and time was passing. As two hummingbirds zoomed past, the unanimous voice of the local insect population grew louder and softer in a rhythmic wave. Over that, a bird that sounded large, perhaps a turkey, diligently practiced “Brrrrk brrrrk. Brrrrk brrrrk…”. Another one replied in a slightly different pitch far across the yard. Way above all that, the sound of a plane scraping along the ionosphere blended into an ominous rumble of thunder not far away.

The thigh-high porch walls have four sturdy columns supporting a long chestnut tree beam supporting the roof and framing the view of the woods like a widescreen TV. In fact, to me, the porch view is instead of a TV, broadcasting a live, perpetual performance that develops very slowly. That day it was a solid green panorama dense with tall poplars. In six months it will be a frozen leafless mountainside.

Three steps lead down from the porch to a steep slope, so our view of the trees is almost half way up their dark trunks. The elegant poplar whose portrait is on the cover of my book is straight ahead, nestled behind some bamboo. I chose that particular tree because of it’s almost-broken-off dead branch, stark white against the green background. The splintered rupture tells the story of a higher branch that fell on it a while ago and almost knocked it off completely. But it was still hanging on. It was how I felt about the aftermath of the family tragedy that befell the unlucky branch I was born into, and what my book is about.

The screen door squeaked opened and in blew our irrepressible friends Beth and Mark, their annual weekend visit in full swing. My husband followed them on to the porch with a tray of hummus, pita chips and lemonade as the wind picked up and blew the napkins around. Every leaf and branch beyond the house suddenly swirled with the clatter of a compact, violent rainstorm. One-hundred foot trees were waving around as if they were underwater corals caught in a current. The birds and the local insect population were probably holding on for dear life at this point.

As the four of us stood marveling at the calamitous copse, a loud crack and thud of something falling heavily drove a startled mother deer and her fawn out of the woods. As they waited under the protection of the bamboo at the edge of the yard, I opened my camera app to take their picture. In the background was my tree, but it looked different now. Its half broken-off branch was missing, undoubtedly the source of the loud crash. And with that branch out of the way, the view into the woods was much deeper.

Now that the tree had changed, I decided the cover should, too.