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Fitting Into Trees

Afternoon walk in Melvin's field
Afternoon walk in Melvin’s field

I was up early, propelled by the feeling that too many days had passed since I’d greeted the rising sun with sweat on my brow, so I coaxed the fires to life, slipped out the door, and stepped into my skis. It was still dark and an even zero degrees, but it’s been the sort of winter that makes a zero degree morning feel like just the way things are, so I wasn’t cold. I glided up past the barn and the still-prone cows, and I fancied myself the image of them turning their shaggy heads toward me in greeting or maybe just curiosity, but the truth is, it was too dark to know if they so much as glanced my way.

Out on Melvin’s field, at the height of the land, I slotted into the packed depression left by the big, lugged tire of his New Holland on his way to gather firewood the afternoon before. The sky was ever so slightly bluing above me, and I skied fast as the cold snow would let me. Over by the old hollow oak I could see down to Melvin’s barn. Light shone through a window. Chore time. It was almost six, so I knew Melvin was probably feeding out at that very moment, and for some reason I remembered Thanksgiving, when we’d all been sitting around our big farmhouse table, shifting ever so slightly in our chairs to relieve the post-meal discomfort of expanded bellies pressing against waistbands. We’d had one serious cold snap already, and I said something like “I hope it’s a good, hard winter.” Melvin didn’t miss a beat: “Spoken like someone who makes his living at a desk,” he said, and he was grinning like he does when he’s heckling me but also knows he’s speaking the truth and furthermore knows that I know he’s speaking the truth. It’s a tidy arrangement, really.

That old oak. The boys used to squeeze themselves into it all the time. They’d spend hours in and around that tree, lost to their imagining. We’d read My Side of the Mountain, and I suppose that had something to do with it, but I bet they would have found that tree no matter what. Just the other day Fin told me they can’t fit into it anymore. Ain’t that the way it goes. I suppose it would’ve made me sort of sad if it didn’t reveal the simple fact that they still wanted to fit into it. That they’d tried. Maybe trying to fit inside a hollow tree is as important as actually fitting into it. I know that tree’s days are numbered. It’s going in Melvin’s furnace, if not this winter, then next. If not next winter, the one after that. That’s ok. My boys don’t fit in there anymore, and a furnace doesn’t run on sentiment.

By the time I returned home, I’d gotten the sweat I’d wanted. I could taste it on my upper lip. I skied past the cows again, and this time, I could see that they did look my way. Wanting hay. Wanting fresh water. I went into the house, changed into my chore boots, and stepped back outside.

17 thoughts on “Fitting Into Trees”

  1. Wow. Something about the solitude enjoyed, the reflecting on childhood whizzing by, the observation of the many small ways we parents ‘grieve’ our children growing up and leaving behind completely wholes stages that were daily joy and even habits to them …something in the silent snow, the cold air and the inner reflection … there came to me a realization that none of us really are all that different, whether our musing is while at the urban bus-stop or skiing through a pre-dawn field, we all have a place that’s ‘home’ to us and we all want to hang on to our children as tight as we can but all while also gracefully letting them go… something in that tension …so beautifully described that I found tears welling up in my eyes and then rom nowhere a wry smile to fight them back. Fantastic writing Ben, thank you for sharing these incredible moments with us.

  2. I see myself in the writing. That’s why your writing resonates with me. I used to fit in the tree. I don’t anymore but if I find one big enough this 63 year old body is going in there to satisfy the kid that is still me. I like everything you do pretty much but for some reason I like this one the best so far. Maybe because it sounds like a chapter out of a fiction novel. Lyric. Flow.

    Melvin got it right with his comment though. Sorry, pal. It’s no fun working outdoors in zero weather. Melvin would probably love to move to Hawaii.

  3. We have a similar tree which just fits two toddler boys (and one Mama if she holds her breath!) When they don’t fit there, they will fit somewhere else. You’re right – that’s the way it goes. I’m loving this winter, too, as I fervently hoped for my boys to experience significant snow. It’s falling right now for the second time this winter and we all are loving every minute. Of course, my husband works from home (I suppose I do, too, as a homemaker) so I can see Melvin’s point. I love the idea of your boys’ tree becoming warmth for your neighbor some day in the near future. All things on this great Earth have so many purposes if we only see them. Thank you for this bit of beauty on a snowy day, Ben.

  4. Ben, you are just simply a great storyteller. I loved reading this, remembering my own youth with my cousins in the woods, building forts and whatnot. We just didn’t have Melvin and Janet and the cows for neighbors. You lucky SOB! 😉 Tell them ‘hi’ for me …

    W.

  5. I think the beauty of your writing is that we all see ourselves in it. Even when we have such different experiences. That quality is one that I appreciate in a writer and why I always enjoy reading your thoughts. Thanks for sharing as always.

  6. Thanks for taking us along with you Ben. And yes, them still wanting to fit into that old tree is so telling.
    M

  7. This one will be added to my “Favorite Blog Post” bookmark list.

    Funny you mention My Side of the Mountain. I read it over and over as a kid and a couple times as an adult. This weekend I read another Jean Craighead George book The Tarantula in my Purse and 172 Other Wild Pets. I wonder what your boys would make of that one.

  8. I’ve REALLY enjoyed reading your blog Ben, including this one. I am not a big reader, but I have very much enjoyed reading your article/interview on NPR, then in Outside Magazine, and most of all your blog, and I look forward to reading your book Home Grown soon. Thanks for sharing your life stories. They inspire me and help me achieve the goals that I’ve always wanted to do.

    Jason

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