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The Old Tree and I

How many remember climbing a tree when they were little? Do you remember how much you loved that old tree? How that silent giant allowed you to be taller than the tallest adult and gave you freedom from the earth? Do you remember hiding behind it in a game of hide and go seek? Or finding an Easter egg tucked in one of the many cracks and crevices at it's base?

As a child I remember climbing up in one particular old tree in our backyard. It was an oak and had many long, almost horizontal limbs that were perfect for sitting upon. Like an agent, one of us would sneak into the house and grab some cookies from the kitchen. Avoiding capture and then sharing them in our secret spot above the ground. I can remember noticing the big, black carpenter ants climbing up the limbs around us. Or a cicada with it's big green eyes watching us cautiously before flying off with a noisy, almost startling departure. On one of the oaks in our yard, we had a swing and I can remember being pushed high into the sky while laughing uncontrollably. I know most all of my siblings enjoyed the swing, but it was thanks to that grand old oak that it was made possible.

My sister Gail, swinging away on a hot summer day. Our dog Hardy, in the background.

A fall day under the trees with my Mom and our dog, Hardy.

I think of all the countless hours we spent under those trees in our backyard. From Spring to Winter, the trees were part of our lives and we took them for granted. There were the office parties, when my father's co-workers would come out from the city and enjoy burgers and hot dogs while sitting at a picnic table under these trees. The trees were just part of the landscape. But, without them it would have been way too bright and way too hot.

One of many office parties under the trees at our home (my Dad and little brother Craig, in the center).

Those trees added so much to the landscape and softened the human, right edges of our 1960s home with color and curves. They provided a relaxing voice as the wind blew through their leaves. The sound gliding in through the screens on the breeze that carried it.

When I am hiking in a woods or even a park and come to an old tree, it causes me to pause and remember with a smile. Sometimes I just have to stare. How majestic, how beautiful, how towering! What a wonderful creature which we know very little about, except that it is gentle enough for children and provides beauty to our landscape.

I like to think about the life this old tree has lived. It survived the odds. Because once it was nothing more than an acorn - a small life pod dropped to the ground along with hundreds of others. A feast for squirrels and other creatures, this tree faced it's first challenge the minute it fell to the ground. But it survived. It beat the odds and sprouted into the soil.

Like a race to the light, this young tree was growing towards the sun above with rapid succession. If it grew too slow or if it was damaged by bugs or disease it would fall behind and would eventually be starved for light. But, again this tree grew upward and survived.

Next came the rabbits and the deer, nibbling the tender and chewy young branches. Cutting off their chances for gathering light and ingesting the bright green leaves as they quietly grazed under the mother oak. And yet again, this tree survived.

I'm sure this tree saw many a storm on hot summer afternoons. From it's point of view, the tree sat still and waited. Watching the sky turn from light blue to a deep, gray coal. It felt the wind change direction, blowing gently at first and then gusting with fierce might against the young and fragile trunk. This too could have irreversibly damaged the tree, but somehow it survived and continued to grow.

Today, the once smooth skin has become etched with deep valleys and crevices. There are odd looking knots and scars on almost every limb. The bark is rough and ragged, yet there is a beauty that only comes with age. Like looking into the face of a person who has lived a long life, the wrinkles around the eyes, the loss of bright color and now gray in the hair. The frail voice. Yet, if we knew what they had gone through, like this old tree, maybe we would appreciate them more?

I'll admit and you may think I'm strange, but most times, when I come upon an old tree, I'll stop and put my hand against it's rough bark. I find comfort from it. From this gentle being. It doesn't need to speak to me, it only stands quietly, majestically and gives me hope.

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