There’s a tree in my neighborhood and it sits atop a small hill. It’s so huge that it’s like it is the hill all by itself. It’s enclosed by a fence that can’t keep it in, and I think symbolism that delicious will always pull me in. It’s a Cypress root, or three really, merged together over time or perhaps growing out of each other, with each other, through the years. It’s a good climbing tree, the first I’ve climbed in a very long time. I don’t remember when I stopped climbing trees, not really. That’s something that doesn’t feel important to remember until you’ve already forgotten, something that feels at once inconsequential and very important. A reminder of when you used to risk falling without fear.
But this tree, is a good one. It grows in the way everything does in the South, relentlessly. With confidence that it will win in the end, coming up through cracks in the pavement, growing in the strangest of places like a direct affront to this thing we call civilization. Pitying us for believing in permanence.
It sits, the tree, atop a nest of roots, which feels reckless really, being that exposed. You wonder how long it took to become unshakeable like that, so rooted to the earth that there’s no need to be afraid. There’s a strength and a vulnerability there, that come together to form a defiance that I envy. I’ve been writing there lately, trying to model that idea of strength. When the weather is cool and there’s a breeze I think I know what heaven is like in that tree. Fellow humans, know this: there’s nothing we can ever make that will compare with nature, it’s all just imitation in the end, witness and worship.
The roots are gnarled and tangled, a mess of things that flows like a river in all directions. The kind of mess that must have a story. The kind that is beautiful because it tells of struggle and years, worn proudly. I don’t know how to do that yet, though I can fake it sometimes. I can’t tell the tree’s story, it’s not mine, but I still ask to hear it. I tell it my own, barefoot in the sunlight. And I think we’re becoming friends, this place and me.
It knows that I used to run from silences. Sometimes I think about how both drinking to forget and getting sober to remember, are lessons in different kinds of loneliness. If you’re here, on this side of the thing that tried to destroy you, you’re well versed in the taxonomy of loneliness. You know it’s contours, all the noises you can hear in its ringing quiet, and that’s where you make your bones. Where you start to build the parts of you that let you become you again, because of and in spite of everything.
The tree knows that sometimes my heart breaks three times before I’m out of bed. The great irony of being so fiercely guarded and vulnerable at once is that my heart always hurts in the silences, in the space between beats that I only know is there because the beats themselves tell me so. They’re intangible, yet steady. Quiet heartbreaks that never bother anyone. Polite catastrophe. The tree knows how in my head whole worlds can open up before I have a chance to realize that their edges are sharp enough to cut. We’ve compared scars. Sometimes I think of how we try so hard to just keep going that we don’t realize how wounded we have become. It’s no wonder that we forget to keep climbing sometimes.
But trees don’t feel that. Or maybe they do. There are lessons here in this place, even if I don’t know what they are or what they mean or who they’re meant for. They exist in that quiet that sometimes I can’t bear. Something in existing as long as they do, some idea of letting go, of knowing that things don’t have to stay beautiful forever to be real. Sometimes it’s just a moment, somewhere deep in one of those gnarled roots, something you can’t see anymore but that needed to be there so that you could grow. A tiny grace I can give myself in the branches.