Thursday, March 30, 2006

Climbing Trees & Skipping School

Iv'e been climbing into and up on trees since I can remember. Perhaps that is because the neighborhood I lived in the longest as a kid had a Big Old Oak Tree that we all climbed in.
We lived on a brick road, lakeside, in Central Florida. Park-like setting. The little roads in our area had islands in them. The island in front of our house had a water fountain and a sitting area. The one down from our house had The Big Old Oak Tree.
The branches were so long and thick that we would dangle over the rare passing car. We'd try to touch the teen-agers riding by on bikes with our toes as we sat on it's expansive branches. We sometimes would climb out on a branch and jump down on the opposite side of the road. Often we would sit in the web of its roots and talk about our worlds. We would race our bikes over the ripples the extended roots caused in the brick road. We grew up tangled in with the roots and branches, constantly reaching out.
I found myself in this tree, all alone for hours, on my first day of school at Jack & Jill Pre-K. My middle sister, I'll call her Kimbies, was in 6th grade and attended the 'big kid school' next door & she was given the task of walking me to school on my first day! I was slightly nervous & quite skeptical. Kimbies walked me to the gated entrance. She pointed to an adult woman (presumably a teacher) and told me to go ask her what I should do...where I should go. I did.
This woman told me to go play in the playground. I did.
I got on the monkey bars and began to swing my way across. About half way down the bars, I was met with a tangle-haired classmate with her feet swinging wildly towards my gut. I had never been in day care, but at the park, we always allowed passing on the monkey bars. I swang to the left and right and even backwards trying to escape her kicks and get around her. Her eyes were as wild as her hair & neither compared in wildness to those damned kicking feet. She snarled her thin little lips up at me and said "scared blondie?"
Hmmm...the thoughts were there, although the vocabulary was not...
I thought 'fuck this shit' and I just let go of the bars.
I walked back to the teacher, who was too busy to be bothered, so I just kept on walking. I walked all the way back to my neighborhood. But I didn't go home. I climbed up into that Big Old Oak Tree.
And that's where I stayed. Ah, it was soo relaxing with patches of sunshine working its way through the leaves, laying on my back, checking out all of the activity: squirrels hoarding acorns, the corner lady fixing cereal by her pool, the Bazaars' cat prowling the other corner, the occasion car passing by. It was so relaxing and peaceful up until lunch time.
You see, my Mom had started working a couple blocks from home & she would walk home for lunch. In fact, she had to walk right under that Big Old Oak Tree. I layed out on a wide reaching branch as my mom walked unknowingly right below me. She was across the street and two doors down when she somehow tripped on the sidewalk and fell straight to her knees. She layed face down for a moment. I pulled my self up quickly into a leapfrog position on my branch. I heard her wimper, as she moved to get up. I saw the blood through her nylons, all across her knees. Up until this point, I had no idea that adults could even bleed. I thought that it was something left for little ones, like me.
It freaked me out. I jumped out of that big old oak tree and ran to my Mother before she could even get firm on her feet. In my world, a Mom that is vulnable to bleeding could die at any moment. I was terrified. More scared of that than I had even been of any wild-haired, wild-eyed, sneering, razor-lipped, kicking kid. More scared of that than in getting into hot water for cutting school on the very first day. More scared of that than in getting hurt myself jumping from that Big Old Oak Tree.
Shortly thereafter, I carved my initials into that tree. They were carved into a heart, along with a little boys initials. It was a forever thing. After climbing that tree for 5 years, we moved.
Twenty years later, I took a friend back to that Big Old Oak Tree and we found my carving. It had moved up and around a branch...several feet removed from where I remember originally carving it.
A few more years passed and I got married. I took my husband there, not knowing if the tree was even still there. It was. Still huge & expansive, like a great temple or compound.
My carved heart was gone though. In fact, that entire branch was gone...just a stub of where it had once been was left. I wondered if it had rotted, been struck from lightning or what.

Even though my personal mark on the tree was gone...the personal mark it had made on me was still here. I was glad the tree still stood. I know that it has served as a sanctuary and commune, a safe haven and escape & even as a launching pad for many other souls.
Every child should have one, regardless of their age.

*The Baby Oak Tree planted out front three years ago is now over 10' tall & is shadowed under our two 100 year old oak. The abhorsit gave them a 20 year life expectancy. I donned them with a good old-fashioned flat-bottom board rope swing.
May this home never be without the grace of an oak tree.