Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lebanon Cedars

Over the last several years--since childhood, really--I've fixated on calla lilies, lavender, and lilacs, eucalyptus, cypress trees, and giant valley oaks, among other forms of floral and arboreal life. Lately I've noticed that Lebanon Cedars have been on my mind, and I've been trying to figure out why. I think the fixation began several months ago, when I first started walking across Central Park to see my orthopedist (so many things this year can be traced to an "on my way to the doctor" moment). I would enter the Park through the Hunter's Gate on the west side, cross the southern part of the Great Lawn near Bellevue Castle, and then exit onto Fifth Avenue after passing Cedar Hill.

In early winter, when these walks began, as I passed by the Hill I would see parents playing with their dogs and children, the latter of whom waited eagerly for snow so that they could race each other down the Hill on their saucers and sleds. The cedars--which are red and are not truly cedars but instead juniper trees--wore the same needley coats that they do now in the heat of July, and they continue to stand at attention as I crest the Hill on my early morning runs into the northern part of the Park.

Eastern Red Cedars on Central Park's Cedar Hill
Still, I pass many things on my runs and walks through the Park, and not all continue to nag at my attention in the same way. In this case, I think the nagging might be traced to a five year anniversary, or commemoration. On a January day in 2004 I spent several hours wandering around Salisbury Cathedral in England. I had just returned to school and was on a day trip down into Wiltshire; a very close family friend was dying, and I remember spending a significant amount of time in the Cloisters, watching the two Lebanon Cedars that are planted in the Cloisters courtyard. The trees were planted in 1837 in commemoration of Queen Victoria's ascent to the throne, an event which underscored the trees' historical significance as symbols of royalty and power.
The Lebanon Cedars at Salisbury Cathedral
At the time, however, the words that resonated in my mind were not those of royal reverence, but instead ones of memorial, although in their original context their meaning was something quite different. As I watched the trees, I kept thinking of the passage from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part III, when Warwick, as he's dying, states, "Thus yields the cedar to the axe's edge". It's a passage that echoed what I felt, that something beautiful and noble and significant was about to cruelly be destroyed, and it only further highlighted that other famous cedar passage in Western literature, in Psalm 29, which proclaims, "The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars". Cold comfort to those of us still on earth.

Anniversaries always catch my attention--on every October 17th I remember the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, on every friend's birthday I spend a moment thinking of my favorite and funniest memories of that particular person, and on every January 31st I think of JC and her passing. That it's been five years since that cold English January is difficult to conceptualize. As I approach July 23rd, and a new sad commemoration, I wonder what the five year mark in 2014 will bring--what new evocations will come along with that old disbelief, that so much time has passed for something that never truly feels familiar or acceptable.

So, cedars standing tall and proud on the Hill, resist the ax a little longer; the years seem more seamless in light of your evergreen guard.

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