The Sour Cherry Tree During Quarantine

By Claire Doll

PROMPT—During Covid-19 ...

For a few several months, I watched the world from my window only. If I woke up early enough, the sunrise waited for me, a medley of periwinkle and gold stitched into the sky like velvet. Then I’d go back to sleep and nothing much would change; I’d eat breakfast, go for a walk, complete virtual schoolwork, eat dinner, and then go to bed. From the dusty pane of my window, I listened to the world and heard silence. It was weird, not being able to fall asleep to the buzz of the highway or wake up to children’s laughter in the cul-de-sac.


Constant noise became a thing of the past, replaced by the ever-present whir of my bedroom vent. During these months of isolation, I struggled with a lot. It was my senior year of high school, and events such as prom, graduation, and last concerts were being canceled left and right. The more painstaking heartbreak was not being able to see my friends or favorite teachers; I feared that I would never officially say goodbye to some of these people again, since college waited just around the corner. As the pandemic took over, my parents presented us with an even bigger change—they planned to move from our childhood home over the summer to a rancher in the country. They wanted to strip what was so familiar to me in these unfamiliar times. For nights in a row as starlight cast a faint light on my bedroom walls, I would cry myself to sleep, swarmed with anxiety over missing out on my youth, never having closure to high school, and leaving the only place I knew.


Days unraveled, and I continued to look out my window, because it was the only way to escape from the confinement of my bedroom. I tried not to think about the coronavirus or graduation or anything like that. Instead, the beauty of nature grasped my attention. I had a big backyard, so it was easy to focus on one thing only—one object that, at the time, I didn’t know would have such an impact on me during this quarantine. In the far left corner was a sour cherry tree. It had branches low to the ground that stretched as far as they could go; in fact, when my sister and I were little, we would climb the trunk and pretend that the sky was a canopy of green leaves, that the world was small and insignificant compared to the heights we were able to achieve. Now, looking at the tree, I notice the bare branches wavering after a snowless winter. It seemed empty at the time, and for a second I thought, how could such a thing, seemingly devoid of life, grow into lush green in the span of a few months? Slowly but surely, April arrived with evening rainstorms and cloudless morning skies. Every now and then, I would watch the sour cherry tree, and each day, small pinpricks of white appeared on the branches—buds. Pure and unblemished, these blossoms rose like the sun, each petal unraveling beautifully and gracefully on every chestnut-colored twig. “Margaret,” I asked my sister one afternoon. “Let’s hang out in the backyard today.”


“Okay.”


We spread a blanket on the grass underneath the sour cherry tree. Slight breezes of wind caused white petals to fall, and for a second, if you squinted your eyes and watched the sky, it looked like a snowstorm brewing in the heart of winter. That’s what it felt like too, with all this silence and emptiness in the world. But after taking one look at the tree, I knew it was Spring. Color thrived all around my sister and me, and we could tell that nature was what both of us needed this afternoon.


Sitting on that blanket, I found out that my senior prom was canceled. The news was sent in a school email, and right then and there you could practically hear the shattering hearts of teenagers across my small town. After months of imagining myself in a silky teal dress dancing on a starlit floor, I shed a few tears and focused on the image of the sour cherry tree. It became more of a symbol to me, something that couldn’t be taken away in a school email.


“I’m sorry,” Margaret said to me when she heard the news.


“It’s okay."


She sighed. “It’s not.”


“I know. Maybe there’s still hope for a normal graduation ceremony.”


Little did I know, this hope was merely just a hope.


“Maybe.”


She looked down at the grass and wrapped her fingers around several chartreuse blades.

That night, I lifted my curtains and noticed the sharp contrast between the sour cherry tree with intricate white blossoms against the navy blue sky dotted with stars. Everything else was clothed in darkness, but this image stood out against the night. I cracked the window open and breathed in the cool, Spring air. The tree, in full bloom, was destined to change yet again, and I anticipated its transformation as late April rainstorms gave way to the growing heat of May.


Late that month, it was announced that public schools were closed for the rest of the year. Even though the hope of returning was dim, I still imagined walking in the familiar hallways, seeing my friends, and receiving my diploma in a normal way. This dream was crushed, expectedly. It became harder to cope with the continuous stream of news, whether it was the cancellation of another big event or the increase in the deadliness of the virus. I also worried about my father, a paramedic. As he took on extra shifts, my mother stayed at home and began the treacherous task of packing. Soon, as the quarantine was extended, shelves in my house were cleared of photo frames. Bookcases were emptied, and pillows were crammed into small boxes. It felt like the world was spinning at an astronomical rate, and my mind just couldn’t keep up with it. Through all this, I still clung to the promise of the sour cherry tree. I knew it would grow even more, and it did.


As April faded to May, emerald leaves began replacing the blossoms, and soon enough, the tree was so green and filled with leaves that you could barely see the branches. I opened the door to the deck and breathed in the warm, thick air.


“Margaret,” I called. “Let’s climb the tree.”


“What?” She said, caught off guard by my question.


“The sour cherry tree in the backyard. We’re going to climb it. Hurry.”


So we did. Hurrying to the backyard where several of my dad’s plants were being uprooted, Margaret and I arrived at the tree; it stood tall in all its glory, its fresh green leaves wavering in the winds of May.


“I’ll go first.”


Placing my right foot on the lowest branch, I swung my left foot around so it firmly stood against the trunk. Then I grabbed each branch after that, my hands chafing from the bark. I didn’t mind, though. Climbing the ancient tree took me right back to my childhood, and for a second, I became my seven-year-old self with wire glasses and crooked pigtails and a world around me that wasn’t ever-changing.


For a second, I became comforted while taking each step on yet another branch, because I knew this feeling of scraping my skin on tree bark and looking up and seeing leaves waltzing in the air. For a second, there wasn’t a virus and I wasn’t moving houses. Then I realized that this “one second” must end. As soon as the nostalgic sensation came upon me, it slipped away, and I was just an eighteen-year-old sitting in a tree.


“Claire, scoot over, I’m coming up,” said Margaret as she twisted her body to sit on the same branch as me.


“Wow,” I said. “Yeah, we haven’t done this in a while.”


“No, I mean look at the view.”


Margaret turned to face the backyard, our backyard. It looked smaller than it did ten years ago, but still, the lawn of freshly-cut grass and the corner gardens filled with azaleas and sunflowers brought a smile to my face. Then, I looked up. The sour cherry tree I had watched over the course of quarantine, the one with bare branches and then small buds and then full-grown flowers, was now wavering with green. Sunlight soaked the leaves, casting a golden glow around us, and little bits of the sky peeked through the intersecting twigs.


“Look,” Margaret said, her voice catching me off guard. “It’s the first cherry of summer.” She plucked a plump sour cherry from the branch and held it in her hand.


I smiled. “Isn’t it crazy how this tree changes so much before our eyes? How, from nothing, it becomes…”


“Something.”


I laughed. “Yeah, something.”


As June arrived, the stay-at-home order lifted, and I became busier, spending less time looking out my window. Sometimes, when I did, I’d notice the red cherries growing on the branches, and I’d think to myself how far along this tree has come since March. Then I’d think how far along I have come since March. Despite moving from my childhood home and losing everything I had been looking forward to for years and graduating into a global pandemic, I flourished.


And so did the tree.


Perhaps the world is ever-changing, and for the longest time, I have just not accepted change into my life.


Perhaps the quarantine and the pandemic have been presented to me as opportunities for growth.


Perhaps change is beautiful after all; without it, the sour cherry tree would forever be bare and empty in the mere month of March.


Since kindergarten, Claire Doll has been intrigued by books. Now, at the age of eighteen, she has a strong passion for using writing to express her emotions in a beautiful, raw way. Writing from Hampstead, Maryland, Doll hopes to one day be both a teacher and an author.