There’s a Japanese maple tree right outside the bathroom window. We planted it as a sapling the first spring we lived here. It was just about four feet high then, small and skinny but full of potential. I could see the future in the leaves of that little maple: one day, it would be tall and full, and it would fill the bathroom window with watery green.
Now it’s about 11 feet high and not only does it do just what I hoped, it continues to grow taller each year. But it does more, too, because I hadn’t imagined the maple in each of its seasonal incarnations.
Today was a gray, rainy day, not very cold but full of chill, the kind of day that makes you shivery and feel silly about it. I like to open the window when I shower early in the morning, before work; I like to breathe in the fresh dawn air, and this time of year, listen to the racous chorus of birdsong that begins even before the sun is up. And I like to look at my maple as I soap up and rinse down, watching the steam from the hot water gather under the eave and then waft away into the morning.
Until today, the branches have been completely bare. Long, curving, graceful thin branches, reddish to dark brown, most of them with new growth thin as pencil leads at their tips. At this time of year — winter and early spring — I call the maple my crystal tree, because most mornings it’s decked out in garlands of fat, clear raindrops, each one perfectly still and round, glittering in the gray light. A good shake would cause them all to spatter off the branches, but the maple is on the north side of the house, protected from the wind. Even when gaggles of goldfinches come to perch in it, the those enchanting crystal droplets cling undisturbed.
But this morning, along with the raindrops and a few odd goldfinches, the maple sported tiny, fingery leaves at the tip of each reaching twig, pale green and furled. It won’t be long before they’ve opened up, achingly delicate five-fingered leaves, not a one more than an inch across.
In a month, there will be so many leaves I’ll be hard put to see the old, leaning wooden retaining wall a few feet beyond the tree. And the natural light in my bathroom will once again be watery, filtered green Japanese-maple-light.
Last year, late in the spring, I looked out the window at the leaves as I showered and there, not more than a foot from my nose, was an Anna’s hummingbird mother and, right next to her, a fledgling. Both were perched, tiny feathers fluffed out, on one of those impossibly delicate branches, facing the window, and for a while, the three of us breathed the same air and gave each other a good looking over.
A gift, that tree.