Cedars are not particularly handsome trees, but they are hardy and grow very well in this climate. This specific cedar is huddled-up close to my dining room window. So close that when the wind comes out of the north—and it does most of the time—it claws at the siding and sometimes bumps the window as if demanding permission to enter. I can trim it when the warmer weather takes up a semi-permanent residence at the forty-fifth-parallel.
I have given the old cedar very little thought and even less care than I should have. The last time I recall it being trimmed with any purpose was when two-thirds of my family spent an afternoon clipping— and giggling— while perched on a ten-foot aluminum ladder. It was 2010, I am almost sure, and I pulled into the driveway after being on a call-out through the early morning hours. My son and his mom were laughing and holding a powerless corded hedge trimmer.
While they both were laughing, my son was sheepishly holding up a freshly cut orange extension cord that had been most recently connected to the power outlet just inside the slightly opened dining room window.
His mother looked at me and asked if I was tired. I nodded but remained focused on the cord situation. Heavy-duty orange extension cords are expensive, and judging by the amount of knotted wire lying on the ground, this had been my best one-hundred-footer. This was the cord that I had used for all kinds of outdoor pursuits that require the delivery of many electrons to distant projects.
My boy interjected his helpful commentary. “Well, I already cut-off the shorter cord. This was the only one left.”
They both started laughing again, and I had no choice but to join in. My laughter was more of a tired acquiescence. Maybe it was a nod to the absurdity of a fourteen-year-old doing the same thing twice and realizing that mistakes are funny when no one has been successfully electrocuted in the process.
We all need to laugh more.
Naturally, his dad-given sarcasm added, “We really should have a gas-trimmer anyway. This thing is junk.” I pointed out that it was a Craftsman.
It was as if calling out of the brand name held some summonable power in a day and age when no one else recalled that the word— Craftsman— formerly carried a lot of weight for a value-minded American shopper.
I am sure that I must have said something about the fact that he could buy a gas trimmer—whenever he liked—with his own money. That is what dads do.
The trimming team reverted to long-handled lopping shears at that point. The cedar was younger then, and it was much more supple and pliable. It snipped easily. The tree has aged and become far more gnarly, and so have I.
While this is way too much background on my cedar tree, I wanted to introduce you to its almost forgotten importance in my life. It recently re-introduced itself, but in a most pleasant way. The cedar began to sing.
Two weeks ago, just about the time spring called and mentioned that she might be stopping by, I was almost sure that I heard a cardinal singing in the living room.
It was well after darkness had fallen. My significant other—home for a short window of time during a break between jobs—was sitting nearby. I asked her if she heard the singing bird. She told me that it must have been the television. The television was powered-up, and the volume was low. The cable receiver was tuned in to The Weather Channel, so I surmised that it must have been a sound intertwined within a commercial that I missed.
Two nights later, I heard it again. This time, Ellie was snoozing on the couch beside me. She picked up her head and looked at me as if I was responsible for the song, and then she began to growl. Growling is her go-to vocalization when there is any indication that something is amiss. I shushed her and listened more intently. The clarity of the cardinal song—her last of that night—came from a window in the dining room that overlooks the unkempt cedar.
When I am alone, I dwell in a darkened house. One lamp— sometimes two— illuminate the living room with a warm glow that makes me feel comfortable. I snuck over to the window where my untrimmed cedar stands guard. I slowly pulled back the curtain. The dusky shadows gave me no insight into the dark center of the green growth. It was clear that the singer had sensed my presence long before I began to gander through the glass; she was gone.
The following morning—just a few minutes before sunrise—her tones filled the living room with three or four bursts of calming chords. I had noted, the night before, that the window latch had been left unlocked and slightly ajar by the security manager. It had a positive effect on how clearly her songs intruded into my otherwise silent space. It also added clarity about where the cold draft had originated when I walked in and out of the dining area over the last few months. It was far too late to remedy that for the winter of 2021, but it was frigidly fortuitous for the spring songs of the lovely lady who found the gnarly cedar to her liking.
She’s been back a couple of times; she knows her audience. I caught a fleeting glimpse of her long tail feathers on Saturday morning. That was just before she caught sight of the disturbing crow’s feet that surround the blue eyes that peered at her from behind the edge of a curtain.
I called my significant other a few minutes later to let her know that I had solved the mystery of the bird songs we heard in the living room. I told her that it had not been the Weather Channel after all.
We reminisced about the day when she and my son cut two power cords and ended up trimming the song- filled cedar with shears. We laughed again from a much longer distance than a ten-foot aluminum step ladder could ever span. The determination was that it was the last time the cedar had been trimmed. I’ll have to do it again when warmer weather convenes with more commitment.
I still have the Craftsman trimmer. The one-hundred-foot orange electrical cord has evolved into a much less cumbersome ninety-footer.
The reality is that I can probably trim the old cedar by throwing up the sash and reaching outside with the old lopping shears. I’ll just touch it up a bit. Wrecking the ambiance of the stage could discourage future visits from my serenading songbird.
2021 has been a tough year to find any kind of live performance. All I needed to do was pay more attention to the memories and songs contained within the untrimmed branches of a gnarly old cedar located right outside my unlocked window.