My long-anticipated mulberry trees have finally arrived. I’d ordered them in my grandmother’s honor—she grew up with a mulberry tree in her backyard—and I figured it would be best to hedge my bets by buying three, one for her house and two for mine. (These trees are more than just trees; they’re commemorations of my grandmother’s youth, so it would be REALLY unfortunate for just one dormant sapling to carry so much weight on its spindly little branches, especially if it succumbed to some kind of unforeseen arboreal ailment.)
I arrived at this conclusion in November, and I’m glad I did: The second tree at my house is also serving as a grave marker for Peri, the dog who had been my constant companion for over thirteen years. The poor thing had languished in our downstairs freezer since she died in February, and the belated arrival of spring and mulberry trees has finally sprung her from her icy purgatory. I must here sing (or type) the praises of my husband, who not only dug an extremely deep hole in heavy clay soil but took it upon himself to carry my frozen canine to the hole and unwrap the thin blanket and two plastic garbage bags that served as her shroud.
I braced myself for Peri’s emergence, knowing that seeing her would bring back a flood of emotion. Chaussette, my new puppy, had successfully chased away the sorrow, but I knew it wasn’t gone. Frankly, I’d feel like a terrible person if it were, if I could have loved a fellow creature for so long and yet have no traces of her in my heart.
The traces were there, however, and tears came as Paul placed her in the grave. She was surprisingly amorphous; I couldn’t tell what I was looking at for a moment, and it took some close scrutiny to realize that her head was frozen to her chest, her eyes closed, her whole being a solid mass of shapeless gray fur. Her body was starting to blur, just as my memories of her had been doing, but I couldn’t help crying. Unfortunately, my son Sage, who’d been having fun digging with his dad (or more precisely, WATCHING his dad dig in a supportive manner), picked up on my sadness. He began to wail in a heartrending manner, and I realized I had to dam the tear-flood.
I’d explained to him a few days previously about how death leads to life, how Peri’s body would be food for the tree, how the berries we’d eventually eat would be part of her and then become part of us. (Naturally, he’d wanted to know about the meaning of death while I was driving, so I had to resort to Lion King platitudes for lack of a better alternative to make him understand the concept while keeping us on the road.) Now, my words were put into action. Peri went into the grave; a few shovelfuls of dirt, and she was gone back to the earth; a few more and some compost around the young tree’s roots, and new life was ready to be nourished.
All the while, Chaussette was nosing curiously around the hole, a quiet comfort reminding me of Walt Whitman’s words from “Song of Myself”:
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;
And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward—nothing collapses;
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
Peri’s tree is already starting to bud; the tree I consider my grandmother’s (holding a place of honor in the front yard’s Circle Garden) is thinking about doing so, and the tree that will go to her house is happily nestled in a bucket of fine compost awaiting transport. The planting process has been literally a labor of love—my back and Paul’s can testify to that—but I can’t think of a more fitting way to remember those I love than in the burgeoning of new life.