The mourning tree

Several years ago, I hugged my first tree.

It was a tall, beautiful tree planted in the yard of a Unitarian church built by Frank Lloyd Wright in Spring Green, Wisconsin.  A gorgeous tree.  A symbolic tree.

Even more than these, it was a funerary tree.

Anyone who is a fan of the architect Wright knows the tragic story of Taliesin, of how he not only lost his house to fire but how he lost his lover to a brutal murderer who had once been a servant.  Frank Lloyd Wright’s lover was Mamah Borthwick Cheney, a strong Chicagoan feminist who left her husband Edwin for the architect who’d designed their house.

It was very a very scandalous affair.  Society wasn’t open to such things back in the early part of the 20th century.

Fast forward to the tree.

It is said that Wright was so distraught over the loss of his lover that he buried her himself under a great big tree on the grounds nearby the Unity Chapel in Spring Green.  The above photo shows the tree beneath which Mamah is buried.  Wright never placed a grave marker on the site.  His grief was too great.  Later, a small, flat marker was placed on the site, but it was not done by Wright.

Mr. LaVeaux and I were roaming around the grounds, looking for her grave when we noticed the big tree and the former resting place of Mr. Wright, the headstone quite visible beneath the tree.  We walked around the tree and there on the ground just to the left of Mr. Wright’s grave was a simple marker with the name of Mamah carved into its smooth surface.

The tree had become her headstone.  How appropriate, I thought, for the lover of a man who devoted his entire life to organic architecture.

I felt so moved by encountering Mamah’s grave that I stepped right up to that tree and gave it a hug.  I wrapped my arms around it and touched it.

It seemed as if the tree wanted to hug me in return.

There was such a strong sense of sadness emanating from the bark of the tree.  I laid my cheek upon the rough surface and spoke to Mamah.  I didn’t say much, but I did say how sorry I was that her love, and her life, was cut short at the hands of a murderer.  The sorrow poured out of the tree and I felt my heart grow heavy.

I could have stood there forever, but we needed to get up to the house itself for our scheduled tour.

If you like Frank Lloyd Wright and haven’t been there yet, I suggest a trip to Spring Green, Wisconsin.  Go to Taliesin.  See the Unity Chapel.  And when you are there, go to the big tree near the building.  See if you feel the sorrow.

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