As far back as I could remember I have always had trees as friends. They have always been a steady force in my life. The first tree I befriended was actually two trees. They were pine trees which had their surfaced roots intermingled in the five yards that separated them. They lived in front of my house in Laurel Bay, South Carolina. My dad’s career as a Marine was in full blossom, which meant, in those days, that we were poor. But these two trees occupied my time. I would balance myself on the roots and make the treacherous path across them from one tree to the other tree. I would repeat this pattern for hours, it seemed to never get old. I would also use those roots to play war with my toy soldiers. I created fortresses and mountains out of those roots and the battles I waged were epic in scope. In the summer the trees provided some shade to make the southern heat bearable. Whenever I was bored or felt a need to be away from the rest of the family more often than not I would be visiting these trees. For a period of three years we were inseparable.
But as most military families know, moving was a way of life. We moved away and in an age before cell phones and Facebook we always lost touch with friends after the move. Years later I was on a literal trip down memory lane with my parents and we drove by the old military housing and there stood the same trees. They somehow looked smaller now but flashes of the past where I had gone to them for comfort or play momentarily took me to a self I barely knew anymore. Christopher Robin had left for school many years ago and the old trees were now only a distant etching in my soul.
Because my first relationship with a tree had gone so well that it came as no surprise I would make friends with another tree at another home. It was a large maple tree that stood proudly in the front yard. Everyone wanted to be friends with it. People who visited us would comment on how beautiful she was. But she was my friend and I resented anyone trying to distract her from me. Almost every day I would climb as high as I could to try to gain perspective on my quickly developing life. From the aerial view it gave me life made more sense. In the spring she dressed in huge leaves of green and in the fall her colors of red and brown dazzled any eye. I admired her. I remember a day when I was angry at the world so I climbed higher than I had ever been in the tree.
My father was away at war and we had not heard from him in weeks. I could tell my mother was scared. He had never let so much time occur between communications. He was lost to us. Once I stopped climbing I became scared because I could not see how I would ever get down. This once familiar world made no sense and was full of feelings and hurt I was not aware were possible. It would be a week later that we finally heard from him. He had been wounded but was safe now. But for now I cried and wallowed in my pain and anger in the arms of that tree. The cool breeze found in the tree limbs began to salve the wounds the world had inflicted. I stayed for hours and then realized it was time to return to the ground. At first I was impressed at the heights I had climbed. Anger can carry you a long way from your home and pain. But though I may have liked to, I could not live in anger, it consumed too much energy. So I left the heights my friend had shared with me and returned to the ground.
Many years later after the death of my father I drove by the tree. It stood proud. I felt a pain in my heart that we were no longer together. But to see it there large and strong as it ever was, gave me comfort. Even with the death of my stalwart father there were strong limbs of love and care that held me together. I could be the strong man he was because I had once climbed a tree to its highest point and could see the world around me for what appeared to my young eyes miles and miles.