Sunday, November 29, 2009

Can't Trees revised and revisited for English class.

I have, quite often lately, neglected blogging for my more strict-about-time Studies. So as proof that I have not been off gallivanting (a pass time I have been accused of indulging in) and as a celebration of my passing the course, I offer a sample of the writing that I have done for my English class.

The only real trail through our forest was made years ago by someone with a bush hog. It is a very crude trail that takes one to the heart of the forest and then dead ends atop a culvert over the largest creek in our forest, abandoning walkers exactly at the miniature clearing that is the home of the Can't Trees. It is a tiny place, just large enough for a ten year old to consider it a clearing. It begins on top of the culvert and land bridge over the creek, and slides down to the creek bank. It smells of rotting wood and leaves, moss, mud and water all woven with the very faint smell of wild animal. In summer, the trees meet overhead in a light filtering canopy that turns the clearing pale green. During the Winter, the trees become skeletons, draped with robes of half inch thick thorn vines that rip at clothes and skin in a vain attempt to dissuade the intruder.
I can remember the first time that I saw the Can't Trees, hidden by wild tree-bushes and blackberry thickets. I stood on top of the grassy culvert bridge and tried to see what my mother was pointing at. It was two trees, water oaks, growing side by side on the creek bank. Once upon a time they were straight, as trees ought to be. The collapse of the creek bank, who knows how long ago, ruined that for them. The trees grow almost horizontally over the creek for about three feet, then turn sharply and continue to grow upward, tall and skinny to the top of the forest roof. The third Can't Tree was added a few days later when I visited the place again. It is a pine, perfectly normal for the bottom two thirds and then bowed and twisted into a large and magnificent loop the loop.

My mother found the Can't Trees. She showed them to any of us who would make the trek down the creek to see. She dragged my dad down there. "If those trees can grow like that," she said, "there isn't anything you can't do." At the time, my dad was working all night, going to school during the day, and paying what attention he could to his six going on seven kids in his spare time. It was a hard time for all of us. The trees provided a bit of encouraging comedic relief. "Just think about the Can't Trees" became a common saying whenever anyone said they could not do something.
My dad and I made the clearing. For him, it was just a necessary step to taming the forest. For me, it was the creation of a special hideaway too far from the house to hear my name being called. It was the place I could go when I needed to pull myself together, or let myself fall apart. Whether I was happy or frightened or furious, the clearing, though it went through phases of growing over and dying back, was always the same. It was simply imperturbably calmed.
I could always find courage in the clearing. I was a dreadfully introverted child, and was always in need of courage. One year I was forced to enter a 4-H public speaking contest and wrote much of my speech sitting in the bend of one of the water oaks. I spent days pacing around the clearing at the base of the pine tree trying to memorize that speech. Before the contest, I went down for a last rehearsal. I was ready to vomit, but there stood the trees, as serene as ever. I came in second place in the contest. My faith in the clearing intensified tenfold.
It was not that I attributed magical or supernatural powers to the Can't Trees or the clearing. I always knew that I had the strength somewhere inside me. The wonder of the clearing was that it helped me find and bring out the courage that I could not find on my own.
I went down to the creek a few months ago, after more than a year of absence. The trail was so over grown that I had to give up my first attempt and return to the barn for a pair of loppers. Deer had crossed the trail in muddy places, leaving tracks that never appeared there when I haunted the place. A bushy tree blown over by some big storm or other lay like a final  wall across the clearing entrance. I cleared it away to enter, and found that my clearing was mine no longer.
One of the Water Oak Can't Trees is rotting. The section over the bend will break off sooner or later. The pine has sprawled out, and is growing into a new loop the loop. It is covered in passion flower vines. The blackberry bushes and the thorn vines are creeping back into and constricting the clearing. Once, I could cartwheel across my clearing. The surrounding trees and I have grown too much for that. I can only just stand without my hair tangling in a branch. The calmness that I associated with the clearing has passed away. It takes effort to recall it. The clearing is still a beautiful place, but it is not the place I knew before.
At first, I did not know whether to blame myself or the clearing. If I had continued my regular visits, would the clearing have retained its allure? I think not. I will always wonder at the trees, and they will continue to inspire me. The tranquility of the clearing is something that I hold dear. The clearing lost nothing. I lost my need for it. It served its purpose.
As children, persons attach special qualities to places and things. Maybe it is a book or a blanket or a special pillowcase, a quiet dreamy window seat or clearing in the forest. A child needs such anchors in a wild and tumultuous world. Such anchors require utter trust in an object or place though, and one ought to move on from that phase of life. A person cannot go through life holding onto a stuffed dog or hiding away in a tiny clearing in the forest. There comes a time when one must stop admiring, leave the clearing and strive to be as remarkable as a Can't Tree.


  1. amazing, beautiful, emotional piece.

  2. I came here on Barefoot Mommy's suggestion and I'm so glad I did. This is...perfect. Thank you.

  3. here via Barefoot as well.

    this is lovely.

  4. so glad i read this; you create such a vivid atmosphere (via barefoot)