Remembering that tree this morning, I searched my "trees" folder for a photo of it. Astoundingly, I couldn't find a single one.
I have photos galore of every ornamental tree we've planted over the last 25 years -- pagoda and Cornelian cherry dogwoods, Japanese tree lilacs, weeping cherries, crab apples, magnolias and mountain ash as well as stunners like a Camperdown elm, weeping katsura, paperbark maple and a shy but graceful American redbud. I even have multiple photos of gone-but-not-forgotten trees that didn't make it, from an adorable dwarf willow to the risky sourwoods we planted in 2001; they managed to limp along in my pH-neutral soil for only a few years before refusing to bud out in the spring of 2004.
But there wasn't a single photographic record of that great old shagbark hickory.
In fact, the only grand old tree represented in this collection is the giant red oak now growing precariously close to our roof. Estimated by arborists to be at least 150 years old, it keeps the house cool in summer and protects us from the worst of winter. It is truly beautiful in every season, and arresting in its great old age -- if one bothers to look.
There were precisely two photos of this tree in my folder, including the one shown here.
I have apparently taken the older things in my little world for granted, treating them as backdrops for all those beautiful young things clamoring for my attention.
I wonder how many of us do the same thing with the elderly in our lives, spending time with them on special occasions like Christmas and Easter, maybe even taking a photo or two of them with the rest of the family, but reserving our day-in, day-out attention for the shiny new youngsters in our lives -- self and children, pets and homes and even careers.
I'm ashamed to admit that I was guilty of such not-so-benign neglect myself, as my photo folders attest. I have literally thousands of shots of dogs and cats and perennials at every stage of the growing season, and many hundreds of my favorite roses -- but fewer than 50 of my parents, and only a handful of my beloved Granny.
They were too often, it seems, mere backdrops for what I considered the main show.
It's too late for me to do anything about it. But for many of you, it's not; I hope you're doing a better job than I did of lavishing the aged in your lives with the love and attention and respect they deserve.
Please don't take them for granted. Because indeed, one day it will be too late.
Originally published 1/25/14