Is it strange to say that my life in Toronto has been shaped as much by trees as by people?
I learned to walk under the trees in Chorley Park, my mother trundling me north across Bloor, away from our apartment block into the green precincts of Rosedale.
Or there were those in the ravine of my Don Mills childhood, into which we disappeared daily, only to be called home to dinner by the ringing of a little brass bell.
We had three ways to walk to school back then: the road way, the ravine way or the woods way. No one ever took the road. Trees were not seen as trees, but embraced as portals to zones both private and tantalizingly unfamilial.
Once, spending time in London, England, I returned to my temporary home to find that the plane trees lining my Camden street had all been given buzz cuts pollarded, branches trimmed to the nub.
We don't do that to our city trees here. We have our own strange habits. On our major streets we grow small, desperate saplings in cement pots, trees that struggle for life like emaciated pets, but on the side streets of our older neighbourhoods we let our trees grow to glorious maturity, branches bowing toward houses and over roads. Amazing. On streets lined with high-flying hydro wires (another of our idiosyncrasies).
But cities are like that, full of strangers on the verge of collision, so many of us living in turbulent proximity.
Across from my first house, a city tree divided the loading yard of a small, once-vacant warehouse. One day, transport trailers that should never have found themselves on our narrow one-way street began unloading there, forced to back in around the tree, which sometimes took a good half-hour. Truck drivers cursed, dented cars, crushed a front yard (mine), caused traffic havoc and still the tree stood, nicked in places but unbudgeable.
More and more I've grown to live among trees as particular to me as any neighbour: the two maples, two sapling chestnuts, the blue spruce and the honey locust that enclose my current home; the oak tree behind the house that has stood a good 50 years longer than the century the house has seen.
To walk daily through the old Carolinian oak savannah of High Park, as I do now, is to become witness not only to the life but to the death of specific trees. One day a willow stands by a creek bank; the next day it's fallen.
On the street, the death of an old tree is more traumatic: four days of buzz saws to remove an ancient black oak grown hollow at the core. Ghost trees surround me, vibrating like so many other lost things on my interior map of the city.
But the death of trees has taught me to look with ever more specificity at those remaining: the girth of boles, the furrows of bark, the fronds of leaves. I'm learning to differentiate red oak from white, white from black, not out of any desire for expertise, striving only for attentiveness.
At night, the oak leaves rustle outside my bedroom window, as intimate as any voice.
Catherine Bush is the author, most recently, of the novels Claire's Head and Rules of Engagement