Monday, January 05, 2009

Familiar Trees, January 5, 2009

. . .
There's a cypress on that block, two honey locusts and an oak. I love those trees like my own brothers.

From the poem, "Illustrated Guide to Familiar American Trees" by Charlie Smith

Write about trees or a particular tree.


Jill said...

The Last Apple

“You’re it,” Carson cries.

“I’m…not…it,” I argue between breaths, bent over my knees, left hand still clutching the crab apple tree at the top of the ivy hill.

“You’re it,” she says again.

“No, the tree’s base. Those are the rules.”

Carson tells me I’m not touching the tree, I’m touching the branch. And so, here we are, eight years old and debating the philosophical matter of tree-ness. Whether, as she seems to think, only the trunk counts. Or if the branches qualify as base too. Carson says I should have clarified the rules from the beginning.

“No way. The branch is part of the tree, right? And the tree is base? So then the branches are base too.”

“That means the base is too big. There’s a million branches. That makes the game unfair.”

I’m tired of arguing, just want to get back to this game of tag. But Carson is stubborn. She says I’m it. But there’s no way I’m it. My hand is still on the tree. I pull a crab apple from the branch and toss it at Carson. Well, I meant to just toss it, but ended up throwing harder than expected. It hits Carson in the ear.

“Ouch!” she screams. “What’dya do that for?” Carson searches the ground for any fallen ammo. There’s a whole arsenal around her feet, and I only have two more apples within reach, if I want to keep my hand on the branch.

Carson picks one up, throws. I block it with my free hand. Then another. Nails me in the shin. I grab one and pelt it, aiming for the face. Carson ducks, throws another. She hits me in the stomach as I’m reaching for my last apple.

I yell, “Not fair,” then declare time out from our game of tag.

“There are no time outs in tag.”

“Yes there are.”

Carson is tossing one apple after another.


“Fine, time out,” she agrees.

I run to the other side of the trunk and collect the fallen fruit: worm-eaten, rotten, bruised, and brown. Doesn’t matter as long as it’s hard. Carson is still out in the open, nothing to hide behind. Our crab apple fight goes on for several minutes, until Carson calls truce.

“Fine,” she says.

“Fine what?”

“Fine, the branches count too.”

“Of course they do. They’re part of the tree.” Even though I’ve won the argument I no longer feel like playing tag. Carson is tired too, so we sit down under the shade of the branches. Though it’s not that hot for an August afternoon.

“What’s that?” Carson asks, noticing the circle of charred ground nearby.

“I accidentally started a fire.”

“In the yard? What’dya start it with?”

“A match.”


“I just wanted to see how big it would get.”

“Oh.” Everything makes perfect sense when you’re eight.

“And what are those?” Carson points to the series of six-inch holes lining the ivy hill.

“Booby traps.”

“For what, pirates?”

“No, silly, there’s no pirates around here. They’re for burglars. So they won’t break in our house while we’re sleeping.”

“Do they work?”

“Yep. No burglars so far.”


Just then, my sister Blair walks out, tells me it’s time for Carson to go home. I ask why, but Blair doesn’t know, tells me only that Mother said so. Figures. I say goodbye to Carson, remind her that she’s ‘it’ next time we play tag and the branches count. Then I follow Blair inside to learn the news. Mother tells us on the back deck. The D-word. She’s moving out in two weeks. Dad’s staying.

I ask Mother where she’s going, about the layout of the yard. She says we’re headed to an apartment. I don’t know where I’m going to dig my booby traps. How I’m going to keep the burglars away. There’s too much danger in divorce. Not enough protection.

Anonymous said...

The Frankenstein Tree

There was a tree, a long while ago, that stood near the southeast corner of our property. It belonged to the family of greats – The American Elm. It was mightier than mighty, loftier than lofty. As a matter of fact, what happens to a tree that outlives its loftiness ,long after loftiness has declared its bounty? The tree endures, more snows, more lightening, more droughts. Long after school kids’s voices have dissipated, after the apple orchard’s owners have moved, after the ponies were sold, the meadow paved, the cows moved off, there stands the majestic tree, with no onlookers, but pavers, painters, ground clearers, well-diggers.

The majesty began to ebb away, the branches took on a spindly direction, enchantment turned, like the Beauty to the Beast, to spookiness. Branches once straight, clear-eyed and supple in the trees maturity, became gnarly, warty, twisted, ancient, wanton.

More kids came, leapt up on the jutting roots, the wooden balance beams for their fresh feet. The roots were all it could give because branches, long ago, had left the boundaries reached by children’s arms. But the children, like bees to honey, found, when there was a lag in their games, they ended up there, without plan or premonition, as if pulled by another force.

No game was necessary. They named the tree. It was The Frankenstein Tree. Its horror was its appeal. Its foreboding shape, the cavernous grooves and ridges of its trunk, the twists, turns and dips of its dark branches, and its dominating canopy provided such a presence, such a signature, that the tree was, in its doom-like shape, a Protector of land and inhabitants.

A few more years and their father, noticing them circling its base, like lions on a sunny slope planning a place to lie down, threw up a long rope to go over the lowest branch, which was itself quite high. When the rope made it over, he fashioned a very simple, one-seater swing. It was a circle of wood, with a rope going through the middle. The kids stood by watching and waiting.

Ever look in the glassy, shrinking eyes of a person in the winter of their years? To the onlooker, they are inept almost. Sometimes every manner of daily life and its requirements are a struggle beyond their ability. Like the old tree, their outsides, and all the secrets of beauty and delight that they used to hold, have hardened and dried. Did you know they were a terrific horse-rider? Would you believe they used to win every Charleston dance contest?

And at a certain point, all they have left to give, all they want to give or receive, is just time in your presence. Like the tree with the swing, all they have left is their love, and it draws us in.

Isabel said...

oops. Anonymous is me, Isabel!!

dee said...
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dee said...
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