Cape Lookout Lighthouse, NC – May 13, 2013
The tangled branches reach out like snakes on medusa’s head, giant pythons, twisting into the air. The tree looks doomed, knocked over in some forgotten storm, leaning on its arms, but still alive somehow. Green leaves spring off branch tips and the wood feels like iron.
There’s an old tree deep in the forest near the house I grew up in. It fell too, half-way over in a hurricane long ago. I used to drag my godfather Rudy out there to help me climb it. He’d hoist me on his shoulders and I’d grab onto the branches and pull myself higher and higher, up the leaning trunk and into the sky.
I never see a good climbing tree without thinking of him and the day he died, and how I didn’t understand what it meant then, when I was 12, to lose someone. I didn’t understand that I would never be able to see him again, to share stories, to laugh about the day we went to that tree to climb and got lost exploring the woods for holes left by the roots of fallen pines.
I said they were giant’s footprints and we we tracked them one after another until neither of knew which way was home. He put me on his shoulders and carried me through the woods until we found an old dirt road through a field and a house with a telephone. I remember how green the grass looked and how I felt so safe with him, even though there were giants about.
So I stopped at this old oak tree that reminded me of home and Rudy and days spent climbing branches and pretending they were castles. I stopped and climbed up into the sky, higher and higher until I felt a little dizzy and wished Rudy were there because I know he’d catch me if I fell and sometimes its hard pretending a tree is a castle when you’re all alone.