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Why is it that we hold funerals for people but not for oceans or trees?

Although my parents and brother all died several years ago, the grief I feel this summer is somehow worse. Maybe it’s cumulative.

We moved from post-Katrina New Orleans four years ago to Boulder from what felt like the third world to what is said to be one of the most livable cities in the country.

And then comes the relentless, numbing news of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico: the Gulf, where, as a kid, I swam on moonless nights through phosphorescent plankton, swirling in an amniotic Milky Way; the Gulf, where my brother surf-casted for pompano while flotillas of sting-rays migrated up the coast, flying through the water like squadrons of pelicans (or were they pterodactyls?) flapping above, while we stood with our feet sucked down in white sand by the tickling undertow of silver minnows and rainbow-colored shellfish that looked like tiny butterflies.

Once I scooped up a slimy bit of kelp and found a miniature seahorse clinging for dear life. It swam around in my bucket with no apparent means of propulsion until I put it back where it came from. I watched intergalactic jellyfish, jubilant dolphins, and the occasional baby shark (startled by its sandpaper skin when it was reeled in and turned loose), but not sperm whales, which were further out in the rocking, invisible deep.

And now our homeowners’ association has had a 200-year-old willow tree dismembered, cut down, its huge stump ground to nothingness because it lost some big branches in the winter’s snow: a tree that was there when Beethoven composed the Ninth, when Van Gogh painted “Starry Night,” when my grandparents died in the 1918 flu, when my father came home from World War II, when my brother had heart surgery, when my mother and I survived breast cancer, when my daughter finally stopped having chronic migraines after 13 hospitalizations.

She is planning to do an installation of dead branches spray-painted an oily black and planted in the fragrant gravesite of the willow.

This is to remind neighbors (or should I say fellow homeowners) in their safe, clean houses that we have held no wake for the quiet behemoth that rocked generations of birds and children before we were even here, weeping, as Virginia Woolf said, with its hair about its shoulders.

Marilyn Brown


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