Caemon loved trees from the time when he was a baby, and we would walk him around our apartment complex to marvel at the different trees there. He would touch the bark, the leaves. “Tree” was most certainly one of his early words. It’s no surprise really. Jodi and I spent years living in the redwoods. We spent as much time amongst trees as possible with Caemon too.
On his first trip to the redwoods when Caemon was big enough to walk (around eighteen months), we stopped for a picnic along the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt County. We gave Caemon a peanut butter and jam sandwich to nibble on as he wandered among the giants. After taking a bite, he looked up as high as he could at the majestic redwoods, and after a moment’s thought, extended his little arm as high as he could reach, offering the redwoods a bite of his sandwich too. He would take a bite, then offer one to the trees until his sandwich was gone. He knew just what to do; these trees were somehow for nurturing. That trip would also involve Caemon hugging and kissing his new redwood friends, as we basked in the wonder that was our little tree boy.
Throughout his short life, we took Caemon to spend time in trees as much as possible. He wasn’t a climber of them, just a hugger. He wanted to hang out with them, love on them. He knew they were alive, and he made it clear that they were his friends.
After spending months in the hospital and seeing no trees for so long, we opted to make our son’s bone marrow transplant room a winter forest, covering his walls in trees, encouraging others to bring pictures of their favorite trees to grace his walls. And bring them they did. Trees were drawn; they were printed and colored, they were photographed; they were patched together with construction paper by nurses on slow nights. Caemon had the most amazing collection of trees, and he loved every one. We all did. They brought a bit of what felt like home to the hospital.
When Caemon died, our cousin took many of the tree pictures, and with my grandmother, laminated them and attached them to a beautiful branch for his memorial service. It was a glorious mobile, a testament to all the love that had flowed into his hospital room. Afterward, we hung the branch in our yard and let the wind and weather carry bits of trees away until only a few images remained. We still have some in a keepsake box.
In the months after his death, Jodi and I spent a lot of time inside, but we finally ventured out to a bereavement camp for parents of children who have died of cancer. While there, we painted a rock for Caemon, a Croc Rock, and we placed it in a beautiful memorial grove filled with fir trees. We hugged the tree under which his rock was placed, just as we knew he would have done.
On what would have been Caemon’s fourth birthday, two of Caemon’s favorite nurses, two very dear friends, gifted us in his name the most precious gift: 50 trees: pine, spruce, oak, birch, tamarack, and cedar, all planted in Caemon’s name in the Superior National Forest. Trees that will grow and thrive in his stead, trees to which young children can feed sandwiches and climb and hug should they so desire.
And we in his family have planted trees for Caemon too. There is a dogwood for Caemon, rose bushes, lime and mandarin trees, a pine or two, a redwood, and even a spruce. I imagine there are trees we don’t know about, trees that are yet to be planted in his honor. I like to imagine he’s loving them all.
Each time we’re in a forest now, Jodi and I admire the trees a little more closely, pick one or two to give a little squeeze, knowing that this is just what our son would want.