If a Tree Falls… Can You Ignore It and Just Make Art?

Flutist, Saxophonist, Composer, and Dad, John C Savage rockin’ the chainsaw

It always happens this way for us — we finally manage to set aside a day or two where nothing is scheduled. John doesn’t have a gig or rehearsal. I don’t have a reading or teaching commitment. And we agree to trade off childcare for the day so we can make something. In my case that is work on my second and third books (yes, I work on projects simultaneously, more on that later). In John’s case practice or compose. For both of us, it might mean time to apply for freelance work or a grant.

And, then, we look at the forecast for Portland and it says 106. And we think, whatever, we’ll take out kid to the pool. We’ll eat watermelon and make tuna sandwiches. For lunch. And dinner. We’ll start working early — as soon as we get up.

But then we wake up and see our plum tree, heavy with a million plums, fallen over, onto the sidewalk. The WHOLE TREE uprooted and toppled.

In Portland, people plant lots of fruit trees. For years we found the fig tree and plum tree in our front yard, planted by the previous owners, both a curse and a blessing. They were so delicious. Abundance! Jam! How adorable to watch our toddler eat a plum or fig right off our tree, juice dripping down her chin.

plum tree year harvest, year 3

But, six years later, its stopped being cute. We dread late July. The figs grow fat in the heat. The plums turn purple. We know we have to harvest them soon or deal with wasps and the guilt of not eating our bounty when people in Syria, Venezuela, even people in Oregon, have extreme food insecurity. We give them away to every neighbor and friend. We leave bags under the tree. We can fig jam in 97-degree-heat-when-we-are-8-months-pregnant. (OK, that last part was only me.)

But, how do you raise a child, work 10 jobs and have a two-parent-artist household when both of you want to make art and you have 100 pounds of figs and 250 pounds of plums to harvest?


This year on a 106-degree day John and I acknowledged we couldn’t avoid our life. It is one thing to let the vacuuming or dishes go, but a tree falling over is something you have to deal with right then.

This is the way parent-artists have to navigate every day.

When your child is hungry, you stop what you are doing and make them some food. When they are dirty, you bathe them. When they ask fourteen questions in under two minutes, you answer. When they want to play, you stop thinking about that poem and sit down and make a lion hospital out of train tracks. Because they are yours and you love them.

So, we didn’t have a day where John got 3 hours and finished his composition I got 3 hours and finished a chapter on my book. Instead, we took turns chainsawing a plum tree for 3 hours in 100-degree heat. We gathered green plums in bin after bin. We bent and bent and sweated.

Have you seen these people sweating and taking down trees in your neighborhood?

Then, we went inside and showered and took turns care taking our daughter.

Me, 25 minutes.

Claudia’s manuscript

John, 30 minutes.

John’s tenor loves intense light and Coltrane

Sometimes all you can do is keep your commitment to each other. Yourself. To try and keep making anything.