Life at the Speed of Tree

Hugging the guardrail along Route 95’s fast lane, I slow the Camry to 70 MPH. Falling leaves give chase, their efforts framed by the rearview mirror. The car pulses in time to pounding music. My head bobs. Keeping eyes on the road, I feel for the window controls at the end of the armrest. I rub the tip of my finger along the button’s worn edge before pressing downward. The driver’s side window descends as early autumn air fills the cabin with a mighty hiss. All around, the smell of earth.

The car shivers.

To my right, slips of paper take flight. Ignoring my airborne companions, I grab the phone from its dashboard cradle, press two buttons and activate the camera.

I press the accelerator, leaving swirling leaves behind.

The car follows the road’s slow decline.

To my left, a mass of blurred trees.

Trees nearest the highway bow and scrape, their whispers carried by hissing air.

7:00 AM sunlight lances through waving limbs. Specs of white hang like Christmas lights to mark successful passage through a tiny forest.

I holler over the rush of air toward the woodland, “Good morning, trees!”

Silently, they extend twiggy fingers to guide me forward.

And approaching the end of the thicket I toss words over my shoulder, “See ya tonight, trees.”

As is their custom, they do not respond.

They watch as I hurtle toward their stoic friend.

Abruptly, the little forest stops, interrupted by a 200’ clearing. On opposite ends, north and south lanes of Route 95 bound the grassy clearing. Without extended limbs blocking the passage of morning light, an explosion of molten sunrise is thrown across the highway. Directly ahead, the road twinkles.

“Like a fairytale,” I suggest to no one.

Neglecting to monitor the speedometer I rush forward at 85 MPH.

The car shimmies. I hold the steering wheel tight with my left hand. With my right hand I point the camera toward the clearing.

Then, from the corner of my eye, I spy my bounty.

A single tree, now nearly 20’ tall, stands in the center of the clearing. The triangular tree commands the glistening meadow with a silent grace.

With eyes focused on a twinkling road, I furiously press the camera’s red button, capturing a dozen or so images in quick succession.

Wondering how the solitary tree is faring, I cannot help but peek to my left.

Blinding sunlight pours over the clearing’s lone inhabitant.

Cheeks and flickering eyelids are warmed as sunlight cups my face.

“Good morning, tree.”

As is her custom, she does not respond.

And satisfied with the exchange, I turn to face the uncoiling highway.

Drifting like lost balloons, blue dots fill the horizon.

I return the phone to the dashboard’s magnetic cradle. Pressing two buttons, I am returned to Waze where I am warned of a vehicle stopped on the shoulder a half mile ahead.

I close the window, silencing rushing air.

Blue dots float away.

Looking over my right shoulder I determine it’s safe to slide into the center lane.

The music joins me in adjusting tempo as the car slows to 70 MPH.

Safely tucked within traffic’s rhythmic embrace, I glide toward my next destination. As is my practice, I turn the radio off for a portion of the trip. Silence, a familiar companion, takes my hand. Together, we think private thoughts.

Somewhere south of Providence I jab at the CD player. Alt-J returns as songs and thoughts and dreams fill the remainder of a solidary journey. My head bobs. Offering a knowing smile, silence takes her leave.

Next stop is a meeting; just north of New York.

Today, a bit boring.

After precisely one hour the meeting concludes. Rising from a polished table, participants smile and shake hands. Heads nod in smug satisfaction as next steps are defined.

“Good job.”

“Thank you.”

Turning from the table, I take my leave. Silence returns to take my hand. She guides me toward an empty office where I settle behind a vacant desk. There I review meeting notes, read email, respond to texts, and check this morning’s bounty.

Leaning forward, I swipe through photos of a solitary tree.

Some good. Some not so good.

A blur of tightly packed trees (too early), a guardrail (too low), blinding sunlight (too high), bright white sky, a blurry single tree, a well-focused single tree, a well-focused single tree with sunlight lancing over reaching limbs. Recalling the sun’s warmth upon my cheek I stop.

“Bingo.”

Considering potential narratives, I select the image, type in a title and text my daughter.


This piece is entitled “Tree, Under Spectrum” love you, Gee. Love, dad

Somewhere far above, my text sails into the sky before turning to arc back to earth in search of its target. Closing my eyes I imagine Gee pulling her phone from her pocket and reading the inbound text.

“Good morning, Gee,” I whisper.

As is her custom, she does not respond.

And on those occasions, silence takes my hand.

A response, however, is unnecessary. For far away, my child receives a message.

I think of you…

Under lancing sun,

As day breaks,

As night falls,

As shadows reach,

Through tumbling rain,

Under crashing skies.

I think of you,

All the time.

The routine is repeated nearly every time I pass the tree in the clearing.

Our tree.

Over the years, scores of tree images are shared with my daughter.


“Baby Tree from 2013” Love, dad


“The Long Shadow of a Little Tree” Love dad


“Tree, Close to Me” I love you!!! Love dad


“Tree, In the Time Before Color” Love, dad

“It’s Me, Tree” Love you, dad


“Tree, But Just a Shadow” Love you, Gee! Dad


“Life at the Speed of Tree” Love dad


“Tree, Taking a Shower in the Rain” Love dad


“Tree, a Profile in Courage” Thinking of you and love you, dad


“Tree Under Crashing Wave of Clouds” Love you Most Excellent Gee, Dad


“Tree with Rainbow Above and Shadow Behind” Love you. Love dad

Years of shared trees are sprinkled with periodic responses, each setting my heart aflame.

“Good one.”

“Ha!”

“I like this one.”

“So close!”

And after nearly half dozen years, a birthday card adorned with an artist’s rendition of life at the speed of tree.

Most, however, are met with silence.

As is her custom.

As was my custom when I left home for Massachusetts.

Failing on the first attempt I returned to New Jersey, tail between my legs. Then, a year later I tried again.

At 19 years of age, I settled into my first apartment and stayed north; returning home for holidays, a handful of NY Giant games, birthdays, illnesses, and deaths.

As I drifted toward a future far away, my parents tethered me with a slender line.

They phoned. Mom sent cards. She wrote letters.

Enjoying the feel of pen on paper I returned some of her notes. Most, however, went unanswered.

And with texts and emails yet to be invented, mom and dad called every week.

Sometimes together. Sometimes alone.

Many of their calls were met with silence.

As was my custom.

For 18 years.

Then, after the death of my father, mom called.

Always alone.

For nearly five years.

Some of her calls were met with silence.

As was my custom.

And then, when mom was too weak to dial the phone, I called her.

As shadows reached, I called nearly every day.

Sometimes she shared a thought or a story or a simple yes or no response. Sometimes she laughed as I told stories of Gee and DJ. “More,” she’d whisper. “Tell me more.” In the end, she just breathed. From a quiet home in New Jersey, wheezing breathes poured from the phone’s receiver to fill my ear with a mighty hiss.

Then no more.

No more calls. No more cards. No more letters.

No one to think of me…

Under lancing sun,

As day breaks,

As night falls,

As shadows reach,

Through tumbling rain,

Under crashing skies.

No one to think of me,

All the time.

During today’s return trip from my one hour meeting I shut off the CD player somewhere north of Providence. Silence takes my hand.

Just south of Route 495 I lower the driver’s side window, grab the phone from its dashboard magnet, press two buttons and activate the camera. Furiously pressing the camera’s red button, I capture a dozen or so images in quick succession.

“Goodnight, tree,” I whisper.

As is her custom, she does not respond.

Arriving home I select a photo from this evening’s bounty, title it, let my daughter know I love her, and press send.

“Good night, Gee,” I whisper.

As is her custom, she does not respond.

A response, however, is unnecessary. For far away, my child receives a message.

I think of you…

Under lancing sun,

As day breaks,

As night falls,

As shadows reach,

Through tumbling rain,

Under crashing skies.

I think of you,

All the time.

 

 

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