An Elegy for a Tree

By JEN SLAYDEN

Like many Missoulians, I escape to the various trails around our Garden City when I need to empty my brain and alleviate my stress.

Mount Sentinel and Mount Jumbo don’t seem to mind the extra weight I unload onto their heavy shoulders, and after a good communion with our mountains I seem to float back down the trail, my burdens a little less after each hike.

For several years on my jaunts up and down Jumbo, I have stopped at a single lone tree on the southeast side of the mountain.

From this vantage point, I have enjoyed a bird’s-eye view of the Clark Fork river and the buzz of the freeway and town below me, so close, yet so far away from my perch.

I have been welcomed by birds who sang on the tree’s branches in the spring and summer, gazed in wonder at the seasonal changes of the tree’s autumn leaves, and rested my weary self against her strong trunk to rehydrate on my way up or down the face of the mountain.

Jen's lone tree on Mount Jumbo

Visiting this tree, I was always impressed that this companionless tree seemed to weather being the only one in the area. It became symbolic for me, that this tree was able to live, and thrive, despite the harsh conditions where she grew up.

It had been a long while since I had visited, but a few weeks ago, it was time to take the path less traveled and go sojourn at my tree.

It was a typical Missoula day, where the weather was trying to make up it’s mind and there was stark blue sky before the clouds would announce themselves boldly from the Bitterroot. The winter snow was starting to concede to the spring sun, and I forged ahead enjoying the therapeutic sound of squishing mud mixed with heavy breath protesting to get back into shape after a sedentary winter hiatus.

As I approached the fork in the trail leading to my tree friend, I sensed a bit of urgency as I scanned the area. The sky usually hidden behind her was staring at me almost in shame of being seen, as if to say, “I don’t know!”

My tree was gone.

Jen's tree lays in pieces on Mount Jumbo

As I quickened my step as if to avoid a disaster that had already been had, I felt a sense of confusion, then anger.

The tree had been cut down. I don’t know when, or why, but the branches lay scattered around the base of the trunk, littering the vast grassy area nearby, and leaving the mountain looking barren to my eye just by the absence of one tree.

Now I know that everyone doesn’t have an affinity to trees, but this missing tree really saddened me. Who cut it down? And why? It seemed like a senseless, random act of rudeness!

I will always feel a little sad going up that trail now, but I guess now I have a new stump to sit on, and my little tree of life will continue to give even after she is gone.

Luckily, Mount Jumbo remains the strong and sturdy friend who I can climb any time to renew my spirit and feel on top of the world.

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Enjoy this post by Jen Slayden? You might like some of her other musings on life in Missoula: Missoula Moms Test Senator TesterMissoula is Like Relaxed Fit Jeans, and MissouLOVE: Things That Make Missoula Home.

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Jen Slayden is a Missoulian who makes her home on the outskirts of town with three outdoorsy kids, a fly-fishing guide husband, and an outdoors-loving black lab named Cody. She juggles her time teaching music, life coaching, playing music in her family bluegrass band, and taking in all the great recreational and cultural activities that Missoula has to offer. Then, she writes about it all on her own website: Find Your Harmony.