The Tree

Sunday, January 31, 2010

There is a tree. It's bark is gray and its leaves are cool and rustling and thickly clustered. The bark is not smooth, but layered in thick leaf-life segments, lapping over one another from top to bottom and bottom to top. There are three places on the trunk where the bark swirls together and reaches outward; gray whirlpools of wood, forming knotholes which release the inner juices of the tree and attract a variety of crawling and flying life. One of them has been hollowed out by worms and bugs and birds, stopping to refresh themselves on the tasty sap and sometimes tasting each other. The hollow is now a nursery for a litter of tiny, hairless squirrels, cared for by their mother who herself feasts from the fruit of the tree.
Swaying in the heights from a skinny branch she concentrates on that most desired treat, the pecan. She keeps one eye open for the jaybird who dives at her relentlessly when she scampers too near another nursery hidden in the leafy greenness of the tree.
The tree is old. Its roots are huge and knurled, twisting and turning below the earth, then upward again; finally reaching far, far away from the base of the tree; reaching and searching for water and minerals to sustain the life which travels up, up, above the earth, into the air, reaching for the heavens.
In the damp earth among the giant roots, an armadillo has dug her burrow and lies curled, asleep after foraging for grubs and plants with her sniffing snout.
The life in the tree is young, is the present. But the tree itself speaks of years past, years gone. Some good. Some bad. But the past is so strong in the tree that it exists also in the present and can tell of many, many things. Like the tree.
One of the upper branches of the tree grows down and out and up, away from the trunk, bowed like the rocker from a rocking chair. When the tree was young, and this branch low and supple, a small child swung from it. Her tiny hands wrapped around its narrow girth as she bravely lifted her bare feet from the warm earth and swung her legs forward as hard as she dared. Daily she whiled away the hot afternoons under the shade of the small tree. After a while, the branch was too low for her to swing from it. She had outgrown it. But she stopped growing one day and the tree did not.
Now both the woman and the tree are close to a century old. The tree is large and powerful. The woman is small and frail. She sits in its shade. Her hands and feet are knurled and twisted like it's roots; her face rough and uneven like its' bark. In her arms she holds young life, as does the tree. Her grandchild's daughter, the sole member of the nursery. There is a similarity between the women, young and old. It lies in the completely innocent look of the eyes, neither of which see anything but goodness in their view of the world. The child has experienced nothing else. The woman has forgotten all else. Their smiles too, are alike, lopsided and toothless and slightly drooling. They present no defense to the world, but sit protected under the tree. The child can only smile and play, but the old woman, like the tree, can tell of many, many things.

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