In my case, it is a silver beech (only I’ve recently learned that it’s not a silver beech at all. But I’ll get to that). Its leaves are a bright copper color when they emerge in the springtime, and over the course of a season, turn a deep green with the outer leaves stained purple. You can walk under its lower branches and stay dry in a light rain, its dense crown now reaching beyond the peak of our two-story house and halfway across my front yard. Sometimes, in winter when there’s snow, one of its limbs hangs especially low, a sort of protective arm across our front walkway.
But this tree is a bit out of place, here on Cape Cod, in our small yard. I’ve searched the Internet and – to the best of my knowledge – the tree my husband and I have always termed a silver beech (perhaps because of its silvery gray trunk), is actually a fagus sylvatica purpurea– a copper or purple beech of the European variety.
Because of their size and majesty, these trees are often seen on expansive grounds like country clubs or estates, not in small yards by the seashore. Beech trees can grow to be about as wide as they are tall, perhaps sixty feet in any direction. Our yard, only an eighth of an acre and a shout away from Nantucket Sound, is more suited to scrub oaks and fast-growing locusts.
There’s a marketing aphorism that says, “the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now.” Twenty-some years ago planting a tree – like starting a retirement or investment account – was not something I was much interested in. Knowing that a tree’s lifespan stretches well beyond my own, the intended reward never seemed either tangible or achievable. The planting and growing of trees seemed something best left to nature. So, fortunately for us, my mother, as a wedding gift to my husband on the day of our marriage, gave us his favorite kind of tree – nothing more than a lanky sapling at the time – to plant in our yard.
I guess we were supposed to have supported it with wires for its first several years, wrapped its trunk and pruned its branches. We didn’t.
But despite us, the silver beech has done well, except for some burned leaves from the prevailing southwest winds and salt spray off the Sound. At least, I’m told, the beech loves acid soil – which the Cape is known for – and for twenty-four years its leaves have dropped off for the winter and sprouted again each spring, thin and coppery.
The beech’s roots have managed to hold through many nor’easters, a category-two hurricane, and even the storms of marriage. Once or twice, when things were especially dark and difficult between us, my husband threatened to cut down our wedding tree. I remember looking out an upstairs window, wondering if he would ever really go through with it — and if he didn’t, what it might be like to live somewhere else and leave this tree behind. At that moment, something about saving a wedding tree seemed reason enough for saving a marriage.
Maybe it had to do with the way the tree has served as the frame for many “first-day-of-school” pictures, or how one year my oldest son strung it with Christmas lights that somehow – quite miraculously, really – ended up looking like our Shiba Inu jumping over the front fence. That string of lights still dangles in the tree, power-less, lost in a tangle of leaves and branches. For the past several years, branches have begun to encroach on the power lines. We avoid trimming or do so reluctantly, and concoct fantasies of burying the power lines some day, just so we won’t have to disrupt our tree. But someday it could outgrow the yard.
“You know the branches of this tree could one day reach my house,” my sister-in-law says. Her summer home sits across the street. As it is, the wedding tree blocks the view of her house entirely from our second-story windows.
Yes, this tree was a scrawny sapling only 24 years ago, and it is now suddenly and genuinely a tree. It has changed, as have we.