The Boy Who Loved a Tree
The Boy Who Loved a Tree
By Robert G. Moons
(For ages 10+)
This is a story I've never told anyone, until now. I'm sure we all have stories within us that are left untold for one reason or another. Perhaps it's a story that brings back too many painful memories. In my case, I always thought my story was silly and childish, and best left in my childhood memories. It shocks me to think my days of life, to date, outweigh my days remaining. Now that I am older, I have had more time to reflect on my past. But the more I think about this chapter of my life, the more I am convinced this story is not silly but, rather, sublime.
When I was a small boy, my parents and I would visit my grandparents at least once or twice a month. With my Dad at the wheel of the family car, we would take the two-hour journey on a Sunday morning. My Dad always took a short break at the halfway point to our destination. He needed to stretch his legs - the reason for the stop he often gave - but, I now know it was because of an old leg wound. My Dad never talked much about the war, or anything related to it.
At the halfway point, there was a rest stop. It was a typical stop, designed for the road's travelers. The curved road came off the highway, at the centre of which was a small, concrete building with restrooms, vending machines, and metal racks containing various tourist flyers, booklets, and a free local newspaper.
Not far from this building, about half a dozen picnic tables were randomly placed. We rarely saw anyone use them, so my parents had their choice. We always made use of the same table, the one closest to the edge of the forest, under a tall and broad maple tree. I remember my Dad telling me the tree had been growing on this spot long before my grandparents had even been born. That fact captivated me beyond measure.
Over the course of several years, that single maple tree became a source of amusement for me during our many rest stops. It was only much later in my life, having reflected, that I became more aware of its full worth.
The winter months were the most forgettable for me. It was too cold for picnics or even sitting on the tables. The maple tree was leafless and virtually colourless. For a child of my age, my Dad explained it simply as 'the tree was asleep'. We never stayed long in the colder months. We used the rest stop's facilities; my Dad stretched his legs inside the building, and sometimes my Mom would buy me a candy bar from a vending machine. Soon, we were once again on the highway.
In the spring, the maple tree 'woke up'. Small green-yellow buds quickly turned into broad, green leaves, and the tree would once again come to full, lush life. By the second spring, I was old enough to climb up onto its thick lower branches (with some help from my Dad who gave me a boost). I spent many of our 20-minute stops in that tree, sitting on its branches and watching the local wildlife; which consisted mostly of brown squirrels and various birds. There was the occasional chipmunk, and a couple of times we saw some deer. I loved sitting in that tree.
The summer days were often hot and sometimes very humid. On such days, the shade of the tree provided much needed relief from the Sun's burning rays. It was a cooler shade that no umbrella could match. In my young eyes, this alone would have been enough for its reason to be. It was only much later that I learned trees - as do all plants - produced oxygen. Combined, in essence, they became the lungs of this blue-green world.
Autumn was always the most interesting time at the rest stop. More than half the trees of the forest would change colour, the maple tree being the most colourful of all. The maple became like a living canvas, with a variety of vibrant orange, red, and yellow leaves. The tree displayed a natural beauty that made the paintings by the masters pale in comparison.
It was also in the autumn that the tree provided, what I called, 'little helicopters'. As a boy, I often played with them, one of nature's natural toys. I didn't know it at the time, but they were seeds. Each seed with its own 'wing', when ready, would detach from the tree and fly away, taken by the wind. These 'wings' enabled the seeds to travel far from the tree, to land in random spots, and begin a new cycle of life. Only now, when I think about these flying seeds, am I amazed at how inventive nature can be.
Later in the autumn, the leaves would start to fall, a sign winter was fast approaching, and my favourite tree would soon go to sleep once more. I often collected a few of these colourful leaves as keepsakes, to be later placed in my Mom's scrapbook.
One summer day, we found the tree with a few of its smaller branches broken off and lying on the ground beneath it. It upset me, more than my parents' thought was normal. My Dad guessed the damage could have been caused by a storm, but didn't rule out vandalism. Why would anyone want to do this? (I remember thinking at the time). That was the beginning of the end of my ideal child's world.
But it was a year later that the real world came into too sharp of a focus. It was the middle of a dry, hot summer. I was eight years old by this time. We approached the rest stop like we had done so many times before, but this time something was different. There had been a forest fire; a section of the forest had been disfigured into black and grey ashes. The smell of burnt trees still lingered in the air. My maple tree! I ran toward what used to be a magnificent tree. It was now nothing more than a blackened husk, no branches left, and at a fraction of its original height. One look told me it was dead and beyond any hope of saving.
My Dad noticed a caretaker outside the rest stop's building, emptying a trash container. He walked over and had a brief conversation with the older man. When my Dad came back, he told us what the caretaker told him. It seems someone had failed to extinguish a campfire properly and the embers, taken by the wind, ignited the dry grasses and brush. Luckily, the winds had blown the fire toward the outer edge of the forest and not toward its centre. The firefighters had been able to contain it and keep it from spreading. That day, I cried the rest of the way to my grandparent's house.
Things were never the same at the rest stop after that. Every time we stopped there, I thought about that majestic tree and how much I missed sitting on its branches. A burnt stump was all that remained, like a grave marker, to indicate where the tree had once thrived for so many years prior. We changed our picnic table seating to one nearer to the rest stop's building. The 20-minute stops now seemed much longer.
Weeks passed. One day, at home, I was looking through my toy chest when I spotted a small, plastic bag filled with the maple tree's seeds, the tiny helicopters. It was late autumn. Looking back at it now, I really didn't know what I was doing. I took the seeds, went out onto our large backyard, and planted about a dozen of the seeds evenly over a large area. I placed a Popsicle stick at each of the locations and checked them, every week, for signs of growth. Nothing.
The winter came and went. I had all but given up hope on the maple tree seeds. I assumed they died in the bitter cold during the long winter. I rarely even went out in the backyard anymore, but I decided to have one last look at the frozen to death seeds. Maybe I would dig them up, if for no other reason, than to see what had happened to them.
I went out onto our backyard, walked over to where I had planted them - to my surprise and delight, there were five tiny maple trees growing! They looked more like small branches with a few tiny leaves. I had never seen young maple trees before. I sat down beside the smallest of the five, gently touched its dainty, new leaves and softly said, "Hello, little baby maple tree. My name is Eric. Welcome to the world. I knew your mother; she was a very good friend of mine."
Copyright 2013 Robert G. Moons
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