There’s a magical pine grove near the heart of Manchester, Vermont in the shadow of Mount Equinox. It hugs the main drag and is hard to miss because of its beauty and size: leggy trees so tall that branches start at least twenty feet off the ground and so old that there is a soft carpet of pine needles dense enough that no other vegetation creeps up through it. Not a weed. Not a flower. Nada. The only thing you can glimpse is an old white farmhouse down a dirt driveway to the side of the grove, so far back that you can barely see it past the tree trunks.
While it’s beautiful to drive past during daylight hours, my favorite since I was a kid has always been to glimpse it in the winter months at night. Then, the grove would be dark but Christmas lights would illuminate this perfect little tree no more than 4 feet tall. Although it registered in my brain some time ago that nothing else grows on that forest floor, I never questioned the small pine tree in the middle of it. I also never questioned why it didn’t seemed to grow year after year, even as I did. I just looked forward to seeing it every winter.
Sometimes we just want to see the good in something. Doesn’t matter if our facts don’t quite add up; there’s comfort in keeping rose-colored glasses on with certain things for one reason or another that only the person wearing the glasses may ever know or understand why he or she doesn’t want to take them off. It doesn’t hurt to ask “why” questions, but there’s a delicate balance with that for an idealist like me because once you have answers to the questions, you can’t go back to not knowing. And sometimes those answers make someone cynical. Which happened in my case.
Curiosity got the best of me while driving through town the other day. Why did this little tree not grow? Why was it the only other living thing growing in a forest of giants?
Well, turns out the perfect little tree is…dead.
Not like in the process of losing its needles or slightly brown or something that Charlie Brown would be proud of, but more like the owners in the old farmhouse took out their Christmas tree from the house in January of 1990 something or other, shoved it in the ground and staked it up to make sure it didn’t topple over. Slap some Christmas lights on there in the winter months and wallah! They made something magical for naive people like me who never glanced at the tree in the daylight. FOR DECADES.
I managed not to crash my truck at the sight. I wanted to cry. I felt deceived.
It’s hard for me to shake things. So naturally, this sad little tree has been on my mind since said revelation.
It took building this piece to get it.
My dad gave me his old Brazilian guitar almost 15 years ago. It’s been one of my most cherished possessions, even though I’m still (and probably always will be) an amateur musician. The sound was so rich, it gave me goosebumps even while I fumbled through chords as a self-taught guitar player. It’s over 30-years old. I remember the life lesson that came with the guitar. “It’s a classical guitar with steel strings, not nylon. We could switch it to nylon, but I recommend you try it with steel. Because if you learn the hard way first, everything else will be much easier.”
I grumbled as my fingers became hot and raw from strumming. I cracked a smile when callouses formed. I grinned when I picked up a friend’s nylon-stringed guitar later and it seemed like no work at all. While my dad was referring to the difference between steel and nylon strings, its application to the rest of life wasn’t lost on me. This became something that ran through my head when I had choices to make, like learning to paddle on a ISUP and taking it out on rough water for over a year before switching to an easier board.
What an invaluable life lesson. (Thanks, Dad, whether it was intentional or not.)
The guitar recently cracked at the neck. I was beyond bummed. It would cost more to fix it than to buy a new guitar. I couldn’t part with it. It still was beautiful, but it just wouldn’t play beautiful music anymore. It would forever be out of tune.
So I did what any woodworker would do (or balk at) and drilled a hole through the back, inserted an electrical cord with an LED candle light, and mounted it to the wall. In the daylight, it’s beautiful. Natural.
And at night, it gives off a warm glow.
Circle back around. That beautiful grove in Manchester? You can’t decorate any of the old pine trees; they are too tall. But at night, you can’t see the grove or the beauty of it. Similarly, only someone who knows that little dead tree is there can spot it in the daylight. But at night, when you can’t see the rest of the grove, this perfect, dead, lit tree provides some random happiness in the dark forest and is downright beautiful on an otherwise black canvas.
As Aesop said, “Every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both, before we commit ourselves to either.”
I was going to include a picture of the grove and the little tree, but while some “why’s” are no longer “why’s,” I can still put on my rose-colored glasses, as busted as they may be, and continue to pass this tree and look at its dead branches and cling to the magical beauty of this two-sided grove, knowing that, while people may know OF this tree, they don’t know the exact location. And while my interpretation of the grove may be nothing but a fable, I’m satisfied with the answer to my “why.” For another few decades at least…
This little tree and this old classical guitar remind me that sometimes the most important life lessons are learned the hard way. Never, EVER take the short cut, as tempting as it may be. And don’t be so quick to judge something, even if you think you’ve known what it’s all about. You may be surprised to discover something beautiful that you have been missing out on.
The guitar: priceless. While it’s not for sale, it now graces the wall of the guest room at mi casa.