When my family moved in 1996 into the house where I now live, I made a new friend. She was tall and strong, obviously with a bit of age on her, welcoming to human and creature alike. She spread her arms wide and protected, sheltered and offered solace and friendship to all who sought her out.

Her name is Maple, and she stands sentinel just outside my back door.

October, the most beautiful month of the year, is the time I remember Maple looking her most beautiful. Around the time of our move, her leaves had begun to turn a deep red, a brilliant, almost glowing red, seen just outside the back door and up the hill about halfway. My children, then teenagers, soon scaled her branches and climbed as far up as they dared to get a bird's-eye view of the new neighborhood. I have photos of them in the tree, totally surrounded by reds and the small amount of green that remained.

My home office is situated where I can look out the back door as I work. Maple is always there to greet me. I have snapshots of her in every season: the budding of leaves in early spring followed by the new green as leaves unfurl; the lush green of summer; the mosaic of fall colors; and the stark, bare arms of winter, occasionally dressed in a gauzy veil of snow clinging to each branch and twig. I love each changing view, but my favorite is as I first recall seeing her, dressed in autumn.

I suppose it has to do with sun and rain and the measure of each she receives throughout the year, but Maple’s autumn garb has never been the same from one year to the next.

She might be clothed in a completely red ensemble as she was when my children were getting acquainted with her, or her leaves might be a combination of red and orange, or they might be a mixture of red, orange and yellow. No matter what she wears, she is breathtaking. When she removes her colorful garment and leaves it mounded at her feet, it reminds me of a patchwork quilt.

I often glance out the back door when a slight movement is caught from the corner of my eye. Squirrels, rabbits, birds of all sorts — robins, cardinals, woodpeckers, bluejays, wrens and more — enjoy visiting Maple in all seasons. I have photos of many of these visitors. They, and Maple, raise my spirits and make me appreciate the bond between the creatures and the environment.

Maple’s strength and beauty have inspired and sustained me these 22 years. But now, it’s almost time to say goodbye.

She’s been losing branches for a few years now, and one day I saw some sort of fungus growing on her side and near her base. Then, last weekend, without a bit of wind to blame, one of the larger branches came crashing down, straight down, impaling itself in the ground and caught in place by other branches. I checked and with the aid of the zoom lens on the camera, saw where it had rotted away high in the tree. Fungus is on the fallen limb and although I cannot see above, my feeling is that other branches soon will follow suit.

Viewed from the back door, Maple's limbs and leaves look healthy. Viewed from the top of the hill, however, it’s obvious that she is very ill. I doubt she can be saved, so for the sake of safety of the humans and the home she’s sheltered for so long, it’s almost time for her to leave.

Someone once told me that the trees are our elders and should be respected. I believe that, and thank our mutual creator for allowing me to have Maple for these many years. I do not want to say goodbye, yet I know death is inevitable for all of us.

And soon, only the memories preserved in photographs will remain.

Contact Linda Braden Albert with story ideas at LindasInkyfingers@ com cast.net.

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