Trees like me. They always did, since way back in my little girlness. I could just feel it. When we lived in the country in North Carolina I had a favorite front yard tree, a great oak with roots spread out sturdily beneath it. My mom—or more likely The Ancestor—had encircled it with large rocks and planted flowers at its base. I tell you I played games with that tree. What I loved to do best was to go outside when the grass was still dewy, carefully stretch across the fragrant mote of hyacinth and daffodil, then balance on the heavy stakes of that old oak. I stepped from root to root, like they were stones in a stream; I was anxious never to let my feet touch the earth. Around and around I went till both the tree and I were fairly dizzy and then I'd sit on its welcoming lap, in a rooty embrace, examining ants and other small crawlers, poking a twig into doodlebug holes or digging dirt, picking an occasional posey (stem too short) for a teacher, waiting nervously for my yellow schoolbus. That oak was always such a comforting, approving friend. How can you explain a relationship with a tree?
I've got a list in my mind of other trees I've adored in different times and places: my swing tree; the tree in the field behind our house, the one that held my kite after my dad and I got it into the air (how I hated to cross the narrow, rickety footbridge set precariously over dirty water—a damnable ditch filled with water mocassins, snapping turtles, and crawdads, all waiting hungrily to take a bite of me, oh, I just knew it—but it was the only way over doom); a park tree I used to hide in high up so I could watch people; the magical, fragrant mimosa Neal Smith pushed me out of once (it made no sense to me at all when my mom told me that was a sure sign he liked me); an aspen at the top of the Alpine Loop, bearing the adolescently misguided monogram of idiot sweethearts (and later I would have cut that tree down in a fit of jilted fury if only I'd been able to find it again); a tree of a quiet beginning at Bridal Veil Falls; the figs of my heart; the incredible tree with vast branches held up by steel supports, like some aboreal Moses, behind the Provo municipal complex.
My list could go on and on.
Tonight, I found some more wooden friends. Driving home a low-traffic back road, Rob and I came to a corner with a 4-way stop and two large trees—cottonwoods, I think—on the very edge of an old rural neighborhood, and they were throwing their catkins hard into the street. Sure, there was some wind blowing, but I tell you, these trees were enjoying pitching their strings of strange flowers with their own strong arms. It looked like a wonderful game, sheer fun, this making a defiant mess of the corner—bah! and phhllbt! to encroaching subdivisions. I asked Rob to stop the car and we watched this play for a while. The heater was on and I had my window open. After some moments, a single catkin whanged in and whapped me in the lap. I felt happy, included in the game. (Rob, on the other hand, started up a sneeze almighty session, so we had to head for home.)