I laid my hands on its trunk and branches almost daily for three and a half years -in bouts of weather both frigid and suffocating, steamy. It stands, one of two trees, in that field in South Carolina. It is the larger of the two and more centrally fixed at the high ground, at the east end of the landscape. It’s an adolescent tree, the circumference of its trunk is about twenty-four inches. Its bark feels supple, not hardened like some of the older Willow Oaks in Charlotte. It is still vulnerable. I wonder how it was left alone in that field, who it was that cared for it when it was an infant, who let it be and I want to go back in time and shake his hand. Someone with a mower had to have spared it. I imagine it was a farmer who had an affinity for the red leaves in autumn. He thought the field needed some color, some shade for future lovers, or dreamers. I always meant to take a book and a blanket there. I suppose I should make a point to now, even though I don’t live there anymore.
It is a whole world -a whole ecosystem and for whatever reason, I could catch my breath there among the ants and beetles. We talked about sacred places this week. This is mine. I wonder if I could breathe a story as lovely as the one of the sisters ascending Devil’s Tower. They are the stars of the little dipper. Desmond and I are the maple’s children, covered by its shadows, its light, its sweet breath. There was no anxiety there.
The breeze blew there even on the sweatiest mornings out with Desmond. It was a good half way point on our walks, so I would plop down under the tree and loosen the lead on his leash. He’d sniff around, pushing his nose in the dirt and grass, kick his back legs up in the moss, walk in circles until he laid down. We’d spend about twenty minutes there every time we stopped. I took deep breaths, sort of meditating, reminding myself that life wasn’t so bad when you stopped to pay attention to the fuzziness of the moss beneath a tree, when you stared up at the palm-shaped leaves, back lit and luminous. I got dirt in my nails, scratching at the ground. Once, I pulled off an injured limb and laid it at the tree’s base, picked leaves, folded and tore them into bits, and wondered if I’d ever have the courage to write the truth, to write at all, to put a voice to it.