When I turn off John Street onto Elm Boulevard and look down the block, I catch sight of our giant magnolia tree like a lighthouse in the distance, signaling to me that I’m safely home.
I’ve made that turn over fifty thousand times for almost four decades, and that welcoming feeling of spotting the tree is always the same: strong, beautiful, reassuring, and one of those daily simple pleasures that I never take for granted, one I would miss terribly if I had to move away. But that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
It is a huge and spectacular magnolia tree and in the spring, it is absolutely stunning — if only for a few weeks — with its pink and white blossoms that on a sunny day reflect a glow all over our house that streams through our many windows and bathes every room with a soft pinkish light. This spectacle of natural color is so anticipated that we say a little prayer that the early spring weather cooperates and the tree does not get fooled and bloom too early, running the risk that a killing frost may yet follow that turns all the blossoms to a dark brown-black that fall to the ground like some burnt ash from the sky. That’s a sad day in our household, but thankfully it has only happened a few times.
During the good years when the tree blossoms full, I can walk past any room in the house whether on the first or second floor, and catch a glimpse of the magnolia from one window to the next. I saturate myself with these views because I know it won’t last long, and when the blossoms start to fall softly on the lawn and I rake them up, I restart my daydreaming of next year’s spring to come. Will it be just as beautiful? I hope so!
To fully appreciate the tree, you have to see it from all angles and from above and below. If you stand underneath next to the trunk and look up at the canopy, you feel like you are covered by a giant white-pink flowered umbrella straight out of a Mary Poppins dream scene.
After thinking about it for a few years, I finally rallied the discipline to take a photograph and video clips of the tree almost every day for a year, capturing all four seasons in the short video you can watch below.
But our magnolia is not just a pretty tree. It was a playground for our kids until they got too big to be interested in climbing trees. It was, and still is, a welcome beacon to the neighborhood for all to enjoy. It is an artifact that symbolizes our home, family and history on the Boulevard, which we fondly call “714”. It is a milestone marker of the major events in our family: holidays, birthdays, graduations, weddings, the births of our grandchildren, anniversaries, family reunions and more, as evidenced by the scores of pictures taken in front of the magnolia.
Dare I say, the magnolia tree is a member of the family, and I feel a certain loyalty to it. The tree has been there for everything and we’ve been through a lot together, including a devastating ice storm that almost destroyed it. Its silent beauty and stature give me strength, perspective, inspiration, and as each year ticks by, a grounded feeling of permanence. Silicon Valley will never make an app that will bring me as much peacefulness as my magnolia.
If you were to ask my wife and me if we ever plan to move from this house, we would both say “no”. I joke with my kids that they have my permission to bury me in the backyard. But life is long and random and who knows what our path will be in our super-senior years.
One thing is certain. The magnolia was here long before we came in 1983, and it will still be here long after we are gone, standing tall and majestic, silently marking time and watching over the next family that lives in the red brick house on the Boulevard by the big magnolia tree. — sp