I get lost looking at them sometimes, if I'm blessed with a quiet moment to do so. I watch the branches sway in breezes I can hardly feel. When I'm bored, I draw them. Doodles, really. Nothing too serious or artful; just a way to pass the time squiggling leaves and branches into each other.
I don't really even know why they captivate me. Maybe it's because they symbolize so much: strength, perseverance, growth, rebirth, usefulness, fruitfulness, solitude. They're so simple, but so complicated at the same time. It's easy to signify a tree with a stick and a cotton-candy canopy, but try measuring out each and every branch, splitting and multiplying, on and on like a rebellious, asymmetrical fractal. Capturing those haphazard limbs in keeping with nature is like trying to create a line-drawn interpretation of a break dance.
Maybe my fascination started young, with an ancient, mean tempered hickory tree that lived in my childhood backyard. That tree had to be a thousand feet tall, or so it seemed at the time. It would bean you in the head with a green-skinned hickory nut just for the fun of it, and I had been warned all my life never to touch it because it had enrobed itself in a poison ivy armor to repel my sticky child fingers.
That tree and I regarded each other warily for years, and I gave it its berth. I only had to run over a couple of those fallen hickory nuts with my bike before I found the side yard more to my liking. That was The Tree: black bark, trunk as thick as an elephant, canopy in the sky, craggy, gnarled, and heavy.
One day, I got brave and I touched the tree. I was feeling vinegary and defiant, so I carefully dodged the poison ivy leaves, and I ran my fingers over the rough black bark. I don't know what I expected to happen, but I figure at least one good thunder clap would have been appropriate. Instead, absolutely nothing happened. Yet.
Never wont to push our luck, my family chose the only viable option: we moved.
Okay, maybe the incidents weren't connected, but if that tree ever shared its side of the story, I know it'd take credit.
Husband has a special tree, too. One Christmas, my father-in-law took us driving past the old house where they lived when my husband was very young. One year, they planted their Christmas tree in the backyard, an adorable Charlie Brown tree set in the ground by a father and his little son. That was why they did it--for that memory, and the hope that someday we would be taking that very drive through their old neighborhood to see how it had grown. Of course, they didn't know they were planting the Little Tree That Could, which would eventually turn into the Godzilla Evergreen of the neighborhood, gobbling up the modest backyard and stealing into the neighboring yard. Yards. Both of them. I know hyperbole is a writer's indulgence, but I'm serious--air traffic control has to be aware of this thing. Has to.
When we drove by and looked at their gargantuan former Christmas tree, Husband and his father both just grinned, so proud they had planted it, and that something in the way they had done it had propelled it to flourish beyond their wildest hopes.
I hadn't given much thought to my "tree thing" until today when I was sitting in my office with a client. This client is experiencing a number of mental health and medical struggles that can sometimes make communication difficult for her. Today, she wasn't doing well. Her speech was tangential and hard to understand. I did my best to hang in there with her, and eventually we settled into silence. She sat in her chair, staring at a tree I had drawn on our office whiteboard as part of a long-over drawing game. She looked at that tree a long time before she spoke. "I had a tree once," she said. "My dad planted a tree for me when I was a little girl, and I have always liked them. I like how they start small and they grow so big. That tree reminds me of my dad, and yeah. I like that tree."
That was the most coherent communication I had with her all day long, and it was the first time she had ever spoken about being someone's little girl.
I guess I'm not the only one with a thing for trees, and maybe that's part of a craving we all have, to weather the storm, stand strong and tall, to bend and not break, thrust our fingers to the sky, to bear fruit, and share our shade.
Whatever your creative endeavors may be, don't forget to water them. With toil and patience, the seed that started so small will grow so, so big.