Every house I
have ever lived in has been destroyed. It’s eerie when I really stop
to think about it. I could drive you through my home town and never once
find a place I’ve ever called home. There are strange new buildings
where my old abodes once stood, and they look bizarre and out of place
to me. It’s as though all tangible proof of my past, my memories, has
been removed from the face of the earth. Sometimes, in my more paranoid
moments, I speculate if some force -nature, the government, God- could
be behind these coincidences in a conspiracy to remove all proof I’ve
even existed. A bright yellow house in a shady residential neighborhood
had the record of my height from birth to the age of eight inscribed on
a doorframe. That knowledge was lost in a fire just a week after we
moved out. I used to bike past the strange new house at least once a
week and always felt a shiver as I passed; even though only one house
has changed, the entire neighborhood felt somehow alien to me. The
apartment building I lived in until I was ten has now been replaced by a
strip mall. No matter how many times I pass it I always have to look
twice, just to be sure it really isn’t there anymore. That apartment
held my first work of art, a scribbled drawing in the corner of a
closet. I was the only one who knew of its existence before the place
was demolished. After the apartment there were two houses just down the
street from each other. The first was too large for only Dad and me. The
year after we left it was demolished to clear space for two smaller,
more compact housing units. I hadn’t left any part of myself in that
particular house, yet whenever I left for the bus stop I couldn’t help
but turn and stare at the two new houses, crammed into an uncomfortable
lot, and remember my old second story room, where I once had a perfect
view of the entire neighborhood.
There had been a hill behind that house, and on that hill a tree.
To strangers passing through Milford, it was something to stop the car
and stare at. To us, however, the tree was just an everyday feature of
our town, and worth no more notice than the great bridge which spanned
the bay, or the old, surely haunted, Obadiah house which glared down on
us from a nearby hill.
It was easily the largest tree in Milford. It had been the
highest point in town until the bridge was built. It was a great tangly
thing, I was never sure of its species, whose branches seemed thick
enough to be the trunks of many trees. This tangle of branches wound
their way upward to a great bush of leaves which mushroomed over the
neighborhood below. Our bus stop was located beneath it, beside the
place where my former house had stood, and it provided the other kids
and me with protection from harsh weather. The thick branches blocked
out sun, snow, wind and rain almost completely. But the tree did not
stop with this forest of branches. Somewhere in that leafy mass another
seed had sprouted and grown. The parasitic trunk stretched above the
leaves, crowning the great tree with a sort of spire.
The tree is gone today. The hill it stood on was flattened and
replaced by four squat houses that sit a little too close together and
whose windows seem to glare at passersby. Like all my houses, there is
no sign that it ever existed, and, like the houses, with its passing yet
another landmark of my past dissolves behind me.
I first noticed the tree standing at the bus stop, listening to
my friend Garret talk. It was a common activity of mine, listening. I
seemed to do it whenever Garret was surrounded by others. When we met in
my driveway each morning, alone, we shared an equal part of the
conversation. We traded stories and comments equally, each contributing
something to the conversation. It was when we arrived at the stop, with
the other kids, that this equilibrium was disturbed. Garret seemed to
swell with words while I began to fall silent, as though someone had
stuck a cork in my mouth. A circle would form around Garret and Lark, a
girl from our neighborhood who was almost as noisy as Garret, and I
would eventually stop speaking all together.
Slowly, I would drift to the edge of the circle, where I could
look and listen to my heart’s content and allow myself to be
suppose out of the entire group I just had the least to say. Garret
always had an interesting story for almost any situation, which he took
great delight in telling in elaborate detail. Sometimes I wondered if he
stayed up at night and thought of new stories to tell, just so he could
be the center of attention. Lark was just as loud as Garret, and she
always seemed to have a story to top his. They were very fond of getting
into arguments that threatened to wake the neighbors. Anne, another
neighborhood girl, was to Lark the way I was to Garret. From a distance
I would see them talking, and Anne’s mouth would be moving, shifting,
even smiling, but the moment they reached our group she would clam up
and let herself drift away. Unlike me, however, Anne had interesting
stories. Lark would shout at everyone to shut up and bring Anne to the
center so she could have the spot light. Peter and Avery were two older
boys who also shared our stop. Peter played sports and I didn’t know
him very well, and Avery was supposed to have advanced to middle school
last year, but hadn’t. They weren’t as loud as Garret, but they got
their words in. Peter was soft spoken, but when he did speak everyone
usually quieted down to listen. Avery was forever informing us how
‘juvenile’ we were while slouching on the edge of the circle.
Of our group the only Cayson rivaled me for silence. He was
another spectator, but unlike me, he seemed perfectly happy where he
was. His bright eyes followed the speakers, and his mouth was often
split into a wide grin whenever Garret was telling one of his funny
stories. Cayson was quiet, and he liked it. His eyes never left the
circle to look for the oncoming bus, he never showed any signs of
dissatisfaction at being left out of the group. In fact, in Cayson’s
case, his silence gave him popularity. The others called attention to it
daily. Garret even had half the kids in our grade believing he was
actually mute. I would have believed it myself if I hadn’t heard
Cayson speak on several occasions. For Cayson, silence was a key to
celebrity. For me, silence just meant I had nothing to say. Nobody
seemed to notice I was at least as quiet as Anne or Cayson, if not more
Garret always seemed to know more about whatever we were talking
about, he always had a more interesting story to tell, there was nothing
I could have added to the conversation by speaking. Sometimes he would
start a story about something the two of us had done, and for a moment
they turned to look at me, and I could feel the urge to speak rising,
felt the bottled up words swell up within me. The longer Garret told his
tale the smaller my part became until I was just another observer. I
might have gone through the same events as Garret, but I had obviously
not experienced it the same way. So I remained silent and I drifted,
until I might as well not have been at the stop at all.
Not being able to take part in conversations, I found myself left
in the position of observer. I noticed when one of Garret’s jokes made
Anne uncomfortable, I noticed when Avery was about to cut in with one of
his snide comments, I was also always the first to notice when the bus
was arriving, so, as a result, I was always the first to sit down. I
would go and move to an empty seat and watch, heart sinking, as all of
my friends filed in after me and found seats together leaving me the
only one seated alone.
It was on account of my knack for noticing things that the whole
business with the tree started. Garret was in the center of the circle,
as usual, telling a loud rambling story about the time he’d almost set
his house on fire, a motif that recurred in many of his stories, when I
first noticed the mark sprayed at the bottom of the tree. It was red,
red like the flames Garret had almost unleashed upon his house, and it
certainly hadn’t been there before. I spoke without realizing it, and
to my surprise the circle shifted, turned, then began to wander toward
me, surrounding me, leaving Garret to falter as his audience vanished.
gathered in a semicircle before the symbol, a bright garish ‘X’. Its
purpose was only too clear. The tree, the largest in the county, was
everybody began to complain. The tree was a land mark, our protection,
our friend; they had no right to cut it down!
can’t do this!” Lark exclaimed, stamping her foot.
these houses are empty,” Peter agreed, “there’s no point in
babies,” Avery drawled, “listen, if the city council wants the tree
down then it’s coming down. Things change, kids, hate to break it to
you but that’s the way life is.”
whose story had been lost in the uproar, was eyeing the conversation
with what I could tell was a calculating eye. I knew what he was going
to say before he opened his mouth.
that settles it. I’m going to climb that tree before they cut it down.
I’ve always wanted to and now I’m going to have to.”
In that instant all the attention turned sharply back toward
Garret. I stood where I was as the circle reformed and gazed at the
branches that wound crazily above my head. I had the urge to climb the
tree right there, in front of Garret and everybody. But the bus arrived
and my conviction swiftly died. Still, I pondered, why shouldn’t I
climb it? Wouldn’t it be nice to do something interesting, just once?
“You’re insane,” Lark declared, on the bus. “You can’t
climb that tree. It’s impossible, it’s too big.”
“You’ll see,” Garret said. “I’m not afraid of climbing
trees, am I?”
I didn’t answer and nobody noticed. I was still pondering the
idea of climbing the tree myself.
“You idiot, that’s not a climbing tree,” Avery scoffed,
“you know what happened to the last moron who thought he could climb
that tree? Don’t you remember little Billy Haggardy?”
“No,” Garret shrugged, “who was he?”
It couldn’t be that hard. There were plenty of branches to
grab. It wasn’t as though it was just one straight trunk without
anything to hold onto.
“Well he was a stupid kid, a lot like you, actually, who went
to school with my older brother. They were playing a game and somebody
dared him to climb the tree for a joke. Well, Billy didn’t take it as
a joke. He decided he was going to climb the tree and show them all it
could be done. They all warned him, they all told him it was a stupid
thing to do, they all said that once you got up you couldn’t get down,
that a fall from that height would kill him. Well, the stupid kid just
laughs and climbs anyway.”
“What happened?” Peter asked.
But what would it look like if I just ran and climbed the tree
Garret said he wanted to climb? I would appear arrogant, or maybe even a
little jealous. Everyone would think I was just doing it to show off.
Wasn’t I, though, a little?
“Well, I have to admit, the kid could climb. He climbed and he
climbed until he reached those branches, and he turns around to grin at
the kids on the ground and my brother shouted up to him, he said
‘alright, Billy, we believe you, you climbed it, now come back
down!’ but Billy Haggardy never had much sense. He shouts something
they can’t hear and keeps climbing. He went up and disappeared into
the branches of that tree and never came out. My brother and his
friends, they waited at the base of that tree for hours and hours. But
he never came down. Nobody ever saw little Billy Haggardy again.”
Perhaps I wouldn’t do it when everyone was watching. Maybe I
would just do it on my own, just to prove I could. My mind buzzed with
plans and strategies, pondering the best time to attempt to climb the
“I think your brother’s a liar,” Lark declared.
“What did they think happened to him?” Peter asked.
Avery shrugged. “Well some people say he got lost up there and
couldn’t get down. There aren’t any ladders that could reach high
enough, so they couldn’t search for him. He probably starved to death.
There are those who say he fell, which I doubt, they’d have found a
body. Finally, not many people know this, but just a few weeks earlier a
live chimpanzee escaped from the Springfield zoo. Well, they say he was
last seen entering Milford. I don’t think it takes a genius to see
where the monkey would have tried to hide. My guess? Little Billy got on
the wrong side of the escaped monkey. You know, now that you mention it,
someone did mention finding a disembodied arm somewhere near the
“You’re full of crap,” Lark said.
“Well just wait,” Avery said, “You’ll see for yourself
when this idiot tries to climb. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though.
You’ll never be able to make it, that tree is way too big for you.”
All during school the only thing Garret would talk about was his
plan to climb the tree. He whispered to Lark about it constantly during
class, completely oblivious to the secret notes I was trying to send
him. During lunch I emerged from the food line to see him surrounded by
a crowd of kids, who were all listening to his plans for the climb. I
attempted to catch his eye to see if he would clear a space for me, but
he was too intent on his story. Instead I moved further down the table
and sat with Cayson, whose admiring eyes never left Garret. On the bus
ride home he Peter and I sat close together and talked about previous
tree climbing experiences. I initially tried to listen, I even thought
about sharing my own story, but there never seemed an appropriate break
in the conversation, and soon I was staring out the window again,
watching the wires on the Milford Bay Bridge whip past the school bus.
The moment we left the bus, Garret seemed to notice me for the
first time today.
“I wonder if I should bring a lunch,” he said, “It might
take a while to climb, I could use some refreshment when I’m halfway
“Yeah,” I said, “Sounds good.”
“Let’s head to my place,” he said, “we can draw up
“No,” I shook my head, “I want to get that homework done
tonight, get it out of the way.”
“Come on,” Garret said, “we have all week.”
“No,” I said, “I really don’t think so.”
As I walked up my driveway, I think Garret finally realized I was
a little irritated with him.
“Hey, you ok man?” he called up to me. “You’re going to
watch me climb, right?”
“Of course Garret,” I said, forcing my voice to sound
excited, “Someone has to try to catch you when you fall.”
Garret laughed and I closed the door.
“Is that you?” Dad asked, peering from the back room.
“Could you and Garret perhaps play at his house? I need quiet, this
week’s subjects just aren’t coming.”
“Garret isn’t with me,” I said, “and I have homework to
do anyway, ok Dad?”
He nodded and disappeared into his study, and I got out my Social
Studies book. I did all the easy questions without thought, but could
only stare at the essay questions blankly. Normally I would have been
able to dash of an answer really quickly, but this time the answers
didn’t want to come. I found myself flipping back through the pages,
looking at pictures of the early explorers arriving at America. The
pictures showed them in tiny boats, looking up at enormous, pillar like
trees which rose above them. These trees were nothing compared to the
one which towered over Milford, but there were so many of them, their
branches all seemed to form a sort of leafy roof above the shadowed
ground. They reminded me of the stone columns I had seen illustrated in
my book on mythology. In one of the boats I saw a little man standing
up, his arms outstretched in wonder at this new world. He would be
Garret, I decided, standing and posing while, behind him, several ink
blot men worked to row the boat. I looked among them and found a man
whose face was blocked by another man’s shoulder. He would be me, I
decided. I looked back to the trees and suddenly my conviction
and I had often climbed on the lower branches of the tree, it wouldn’t
be too difficult to get to the top. There was no reason for Garret to
treat it like some sort of grave quest he might not survive. I thought
about Garret, he was probably out wandering the neighborhood with Cayson.
He probably didn’t even miss my presence. I wondered if he was
attempting to climb the tree already. Several times I went to the front
door and peered down the street, looking for a crowd of people at the
base of the tree.
dad finally emerged from his study with his cartoons ready to be sent to
the paper, I was still staring at my book, my essays still unwritten. It
appeared as though I hadn’t done any work at all. But I had thought
enough to write several essays, if Garret or climbing trees were the
topics being taught. I had also decided I would climb the tree. Tonight,
after my dad fell asleep, I would sneak out and head for the top.
didn’t need to worry about falling asleep. I was so nervous my mind
wouldn’t let me rest easy even if I had wanted to. I waited until ten
o’clock before sneaking outside. It was fairly early for dad to be in
bed, but this had been a drawing day. He was always exhausted after
drawing a week’s worth of Milford Manny, the cartoon character he drew
for the paper. After ten I slowly crept out of bed, got dressed, and
snuck to the back door. The moon was hidden behind clouds, but the pale
glow of the street lamps gave me plenty of light to see by. As I walked
down the empty streets my mind wandered to Garret and I wondered if I
shouldn’t wake him up for this. Maybe we could climb the tree
together. But I thought of him telling the story the next day,
recounting his daring mid night climb, and knew I would simply become
invisible again. So I went on and arrived at the base of the tree alone.
Looking up, I saw the street lamps play along the bottom most branches.
I thought about Avery’s story, and could easily imagine those branches
housing something as large as a chimpanzee. My mind still dwelling on
doubts, I began to climb.
stood on a low lying crooked branch and reached up for the next one with
my arms. Pulling myself up, I thought of how far I could get before a
fall from the tree would kill me. I moved my foot to stand on a stump
which had once been a branch, and gripped one side of a forking branch
with each of my hands. Bracing them against the tree I walked up the
trunk and pulled myself to the higher branch. What if the climb took so
long everybody woke up before I got back down? Maybe I would prefer it
if I had fallen to my death. Branch by branch I took to climbing the
tree like a warped spiral staircase, wrapping my way around the tree as
I went. Several times I paused to sit in conveniently shaped branches. I
would feel the early autumn wind whip past my face and stare at the lamp
posts below and tell myself that this was further than I’d ever
climbed before, surely I could go down now. Nobody would know I had
climbed the tree anyway, nobody would need to know I hadn’t made it to
the top. Every time I thought of this I would stand up and continue
I found myself within the tangle of branches, almost like some creature
inside a cage. I looked down and wondered if I would be able to found a
route back to the ground. But there was no time to think, the leafy
canopy was still above my head. As I went the wind began to pick up.
Just as I passed the point where I was closer to the leaves above me
than the grass beneath me I felt a cold drop of water slash me across
the face. Was it supposed to rain tonight? I hadn’t bothered to check
the weather. I could have cursed myself. Garret would have checked the
weather, he always knew when it would rain or not. I remembered a day he
had arrived with an umbrella, and everybody had scoffed at him. On the
bus ride home, when the drizzle which had been going on and off all day
turned into a downpour, nobody scoffed. Still I climbed. The tree was as
good a protection from the rain as any umbrella, I told myself, and
there was no way I was going to let a little rain stop me from climbing.
there hadn’t been any wind I might not have had a problem, but as the
rain swelled in strength, the wind seemed to get stronger as well,
sending cold flecks into my face. The branches began to shift, rocking
me back and forth precariously above the ground.
reached the start of the leaves just as the wind began to howl. The
branches were really thrashing now, almost as though the tree were
trying to shake me from my perch. I was resolved to cling to the branch
I stood at now until the storm stopped when I saw something out of place
resting amid the branches before me. It was very dark, not much light
filtered up here, but I could still see the twisting, snaky forms of
many of the branches. What stood in front of me was not sinuous and
thin, however, but large and bulky, almost square in shape. Squinting I
began to edge towards it. It took a few moments to realize what it was,
but when I did I immediately began to climb for it, struggling from
branch to branch. High above the ground, somebody had managed to build a
fort in the branches of the trees. It was made of long wooden planks and
nestled snugly amid the branches of the trees, which twisted around it
and held it firmly in place. I crawled inside and curled up in a corner,
while, the wind began to howl. I could see the branches moving up and
down outside the rectangular door frame, but somehow the fort remained
wondered who had built it and silently thanked them. I had seen the tree
many times without its leaves, and never, not once, spotted the fort
among its branches. It made me wonder what else might be hiding up here.
As the wind howled outside I shivered, and couldn’t help but berate
myself. I was going to be lucky if this shelter didn’t fall from the
branches. Garret was probably in his bed right now, dreaming peacefully
of adventure. Why had I been so eager to climb this stupid tree anyway?
It was all because I was jealous of Garret, no matter how I might try to
deny it. Was this really easier than just trying to join a conversation?
Why couldn’t I simply climb back down and let Garret have his stupid
tree? I couldn’t understand why he made me so angry. When we were
alone I liked Garret, he was the first best friend I had really had, and
we had great times together.
remembered the first time I had ever met Garret. We had only been in our
new house for about a month. I was on our new couch, flipping through a
book of Greek mythology Dad had gotten me for Christmas, when he
knocked. I glanced up, saw him peering in through our front window, and
immediately looked over my shoulder to call for Dad. But he was in his
study, trying to come up with his weekly quota of gags for Milford
Manny, and I knew he didn’t like to be disturbed during his
brainstorming sessions. Garret knocked again, and waved to me, so I had
little choice but to get up and answer the door.
had seen Garret before this, but only from a distance.
He was a common sight wandering through our neighborhood or the
halls of school. He had a large, threatening build and looked, in my
opinion, like the sort of stereotypical bully who liked to steal lunch
money from kids like me.
“Hey, I’m Garret,” he said, before the door was even
completely open. “I’d like to ask if I could please use your
phone?” he spoke quickly, and the politeness didn’t suit him. I
thought his parents must have ground it into him.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, stepping aside. I showed him to the
phone and soon he was engaged in a conversation with someone I assumed
to be his parents.
“Mom? Yeah, I was just wondering… oh, oh yeah… yeah don’t
worry I turned it off. Yes ma’am… no ma’am… right, well, I’ll
find something. No it’s all right, I understand. I love you too, ok
bye,” he hung up the phone with a scowl.
“Flat tire,” he said, “perfect. Old bread sticks and
pudding cups for me tonight!”
I nodded sympathetically and began to move toward the door. I was
still rather intimidated by him, and wanted him to leave as soon as
possible although, to be fair, he hadn’t seemed nearly as mean as I
had anticipated. He was heading toward the door when he spotted my book.
“Hey!” he said, pausing to stare at the picture, “that
guy’s got it all wrong, where’s his middle head?” I turned to look
at the water color picture and saw that it was open to a picture of
Bellepheron stabbing his spear into the Chimera’s mouth.
“What middle head?” I asked.
“The goat’s head that grows on his back. The Chimera has
three heads, a lions on front, a goats on its back, and a snakes on its
“This book says it only has the head of the lion, the body of a
goat and the tail of a snake.” I said.
“What? That is so lame,” Garret said. Together we walked to
the book and he began to flip through it.
“I’ve heard it the other way too though,” I said, walking
to stand beside him. “I think I prefer it with the three heads, it
“Ouch, that must have sucked, how’d you like to be him?” he
laughed, showing me a picture of Odysseus and his men driving a burning
stake into the Cyclops’s eye.
Garret and I were sitting next to each other on the couch, flipping
through the pictures and discussing ancient myths. We compared heroes,
argued about which monster would win if the two were ever to get into a
fight, and talked about which of the gods had the most useful powers.
Garret, it turned out, was just as interested in things like mythology
as I was. In fact, it turned out he was far more knowledgeable than I
was. Every page seemed to bring another story to his mind. He told me
about the his attempt to build his own Trojan horse, which he had given
up after the head had fallen apart, and the time he had set up his own
labyrinth in his basement, for the benefit of his dog.
that Garret had come to my house nearly every day during the summer. We
explored the old swamp, thought about breaking into the old Obadiah
house, watched terrible old science fiction movies, and made secret
forays into West Milford to spy on its residents. I felt I could tell
him things I could tell nobody else, and I knew he trusted me as well.
Still, I couldn’t help but hate him sometimes. I remembered once, last
week, when he had been telling the others about a funny trick his dog
could do. He had taken them all over to his house to see it, not even
remembering he had agreed to hang out at my place that afternoon. He had
shown up later, of course, full of stories about how the dog had almost
bitten Lark, but I still couldn’t help feeling betrayed. I knew I had
been welcome to come, I knew he hadn’t intended to insult me, but
somehow the fact that he hadn’t actually asked me, that he never
actually spoke to me when the others were around kept eating away at me.
I couldn’t help but see whatever Garret did as a sort of obvious plea
moment the wind stopped, I resolved, I would turn around, climb down,
and leave the tree. Perhaps while Garret was above me, where he
couldn’t be heard, I could try to get to know the other kids myself.
Maybe without Garret around I could work up the courage to tell a few
stories myself. It would certainly be easier than getting to the top of
this tree. With this thought in my mind I listened to the wind and
waited for the branches outside to stop moving.
the storm did stop. I climbed out of the fort and looked through the wet
branches to the ground below. The storm had been stronger than I’d
guessed. One of the lamp posts below the tree had fallen. But it was
over now, the tree no longer threatened to send me hurtling to my death,
and I could climb down. I sat for a moment on the wet branch and tried
to prepare myself for the descent, but somehow I couldn’t. The night
was too still and the smell of the wetness after the storm was too
appealing. I could climb now.
climbed. As I went higher I looked through the branches, at their
twisting and turning paths only squirrels were light enough to run
across. I thought about Avery’s story and wondered if that chimpanzee
had built a nest up here. I wondered if it was swinging through the
branches somewhere above or below me, its white fangs glistening in the
night. I knew enough about chimpanzees to know he could easily rip me to
pieces if he wanted to. The story had seemed silly back on the ground
but up in the tree, where everything was so still and so strange, the
idea of spotting a chimpanzee seemed far more natural than the jarring
tone of the bell tower which told me it was now one o’clock in the
higher I climbed the thinner the branches eventually became. Above me
the clouds were parting to allow the moon to shine down, and I could see
where I was going a little bit better. I could also gaze along the
branches much further and see each of them to their end. It really
looked like a different tree from up here. From below all the branches
seemed to run together, as though they were one solid mass, but up here
I could see each individual branch as a separate path, a different limb
of the giant tree. I didn’t find the chimpanzee, but I did see,
towards the top, an old rowboat which lay upside down supported by two
branches. If I had been Garret I might have gone to investigate, but I
wasn’t, and I had no curiosity beyond wondering how it had gotten
there in the first place. Garret might have stopped to stare at the
boat, and perhaps come up with some sort of story behind it, but I was
focused on climbing, on going from one branch to another, and, finally,
on reaching the top. It didn’t matter if Garret climbed the tree or
not, I thought to myself. I wasn’t climbing it to beat him anymore, I
was climbing it simply for the sake of climbing a tree. It was my own
adventure, not his, and if he wanted to trumpet his victory and declare
himself the king of climbing, well, that was his business. Me, I would
take comfort in my own invisible victory. Maybe, I told myself, I would
tell the others of this climb when Garret was already high in the tree.
very top of the tree had been struck by lightning some time in its past.
When I think back on it, the mere fact the tree hadn’t been struck
again was some sort of miracle. It was in this gash in the tree where
the smaller parasite had taken root, and I could see its roots spilling
over the sides, circling the branches of the bigger tree like clinging
ivy. First gripping the roots and secondly the branches of the giant
tree’s commensal partner, I shimmied to the top of its narrow trunk.
felt like I was on the mast of a ship which was sinking in a sea of
leaves. Far beyond the edge of this sea I could see a scattering of
lights both above and below me. The stars shone above Milford and, far
below, Milford shone feebly back. Way in the distance I could see a
faint glow I might have taken to be a sunrise, but which I knew was
actually the city of Springfield. The top of the three suspension arches
on the Milford Bay each shone red like torches and I could hear the
sputter and see the dim headlights of an old truck limping its way back
to West Milford.
a moment I couldn’t think of Garret or mom and dad or even getting
down from the tree. All I could think to do was sit and take in as many
sensations as possible. I don’t know how long I sat there, drinking it
all in, but I do know what disturbed my reverie.
felt a flaw on the surface of the tree. At first I ignored it, but after
my hand passed over the rough break in the bark a few times I couldn’t
help but examine it. I had to squint to see in the faint moonlight. A
straight line was cut diagonally along the trunk of the small tree.
Peeping over the top of this line, as though it were a wall, was a
carved figure with two clutching hands and a domed head with a bulbous,
dangling nose and pin prick eyes. There was no name by the picture, no
sign as to who its original carver had been. But the meaning was clear:
someone had been here.
about the image broke the spell of the place. Someone had made the same
quiet journey I had; all the perils I had faced had been faced before. I
thought, wildly, about adding my own name under the drawing, but I knew
I couldn’t. I hadn’t brought a knife, or anything else to carve
with. Even if I could I knew my carving would be a lie. What would it
matter anyway? The tree would be torn down soon, and any record of who
carved it first would soon be lost. The boat, the fort, even the ghostly
chimpanzee, if he existed, would soon be homeless, as would any other
secrets the leaves the great tree hid. Once again, despite my best
efforts, I had done something that would leave no mark, show no sign of
its existence. The universe would not have changed one whit if I had
simply stayed in bed.
don’t remember the journey down the tree as well as I remembered the
journey up. I don’t think it took nearly as long, perhaps because I
was more focused on getting down without killing myself, and less with
other things. I thought a little bit about Garret and his upcoming
climb, but I no longer really begrudged him. Garret simply liked noise
and attention, and I liked quiet and thought. No amount of secret tree
climbing would make me as exciting as Garret. Maybe I was simply better
off being an observer, and maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. I was
nearing the end of the branches now. No disaster would befall me before
I touched the earth again. I would have time to sneak back into bed and
get a few hours of sleep. Tomorrow would be Saturday, Garret’s
climbing day. I had gone into the tree and come down again. Only
tomorrow would tell if anything else had happened up there.