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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

When Things Break by Liz Flaherty

Sometimes things break. Even things we love and count on can be broken by neglect, by wear, by the elements. And every time it happens, a little part of us breaks with them. 

I have a favorite tree, the cottonwood that sits in the side yard outside my office window--the one beside my desk. The tree is beyond the clothesline, nearer the field than the garage that houses the office. The tree has gone from healthy-sapling-size to huge, as cottonwoods do, in the years we've lived in this house. It has been struck by lightning more than once, so that its center trunk looks...well, as if it's been struck by lightning, but the tree is both home and playground to a plethora of squirrels and birds. Rabbits are all over the place, looking up. Deer wander around under the tree--unless they know they have an audience. Watching the animals cavorting around and hearing the birds shouting in the process lends brightness to the dimmest of days.

I am an optimist, a positive-thinker, a cup-more-than-half-full girl, but even at that, I have to acknowledge that there are a lot of dim days. Or, at least, dim hours. Being a writer, while it has been one of the greatest joys and satisfactions in my life, has also contributed greatly to that dimness. Speaking of things broken. 

The wind blew hard here last week, as it often does in March and April. More of the center trunk of the tree came down either from that or another lightning strike. A big part of it. I worry that the tree won't be able to survive nature's latest onslaught, that squirrels were hurt. Although they're still out there, fluffy tails flying. 

My husband wants to cut the tree down. Its core is dead. Cottonwoods are junk trees. But it sits far from the house so that it won't damage property even if it does come down. It hurts no one. It provides succor--how's that for a writer's word?--to both the animals and to the writer watching from the window. "Not yet," I say. 

This then is what we do when, as aging writers, our work isn't always welcomed in the publishing arena, the venue we've loved for so long and worked so hard to remain a part of. Sometimes parts of us get broken by changes we can't control. We flinch and swear and think about quitting because another piece of the center trunk has hit the ground hard. But we still have words, ideas, scenes we need to write, don't we?

On my tree--she's a girl; did I mention that?--the leaves still come back in the spring and the squirrels and the birds are still in the branches, the rabbits and the deer still gambol around. 

They bring brightness, just as we do. And joy, just as we do. And knowledge about other things, just as we do. It's the just as we do that I'm thinking about. Once again, quitting's not an option. 

Not yet. 


Early McGrath doesn't want freedom from her thirty-year marriage to Nash, but when it's forced upon her, she does the only thing she knows to do - she goes home to the Ridge to reinvent herself.

Only what is someone who's spent her life taking care of other people supposed to do when no one needs her anymore? Even as the threads of her life unravel, she finds new ones - reconnecting with the church of her childhood, building the quilt shop that has been a long-time dream, and forging a new friendship with her former husband.

The definition of freedom changes when it's combined with faith, and through it all perhaps Early and Nash can find a Soft Place to Fall.


  1. But the old tree is still standing--and so are we. I also realize that our view of the world as older writers is not the same as today's writers. It seems the world has morphed into another type of everyday life where the new generation is hooked to--and on--electronics. AI is a real thing and will take over millions of jobs where creativity isn't needed (all that much). Let's hope we and others will still have the urge to create. Nice post.

    1. Thanks, Judy. AI scares me a lot, especially because I know we can't always recognize it. But, yeah, we're still standing!

  2. Love this Liz, I have issues letting go... of people, of places and of sometimes of trivial things that fill my heart, like a broken tree.

    1. Yep, me, too, and I don't think it's going to change at this date, either. :-) Thanks, Sherri.

  3. What a poetic essay! I think this could have also been titled "Fortitude." Like that tree and its visitors, we often have more fortitude than we believe.

  4. Lovely post, Liz. Things break? What an appropriate theme for me. The "thing" that broke was our WiFi router which has had us out of commission since last Friday.

    1. Thanks, Joan. Lots of breakage all around, it seems! Glad you're back.


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