By Julia Keene
My feet were bare the first time I found the tree. It was a summer rainstorm, the kind that made your eyes bright and your chest warm. The kind that makes you want to run. I’ve always had something inside of me that resonated with summer storms, the way that the heat was supposed to be unbearable until the sky eventually broke with stubbornness and caved down giving us what we asked for.
My high school years were spent in one town, the first time I had stayed in a single town for more than a year or so. I had just moved into a new apartment, in a small town full of faces who knew my life so well that they could barely look me in the eye when we saw each other crossing the street – which meant somehow that I was supposed to start to learn what the word “home” sounded like in my own voice. A word too foreign that my tongue spat out, and it tasted like blood and metal.
I ran down my street in the rain, and my hair was long and heavy and soaked, but my feet felt free. Running in the opposite direction of my house I had no thought of where I would go, it was about a three mile run to sweet Jane’s house. My soul sister. My mango eater. My book hoarder. I was allowed to run there any time of day or night, greeted with love shown in the form of never asking questions. My feet stopped moving, though. There was an old building that was out of use for years now, there was a small space of grass in between two roads, and there was a tree. One full of knots and mushrooms and green leaves. I found a place in between. Not quite home, and not quite running to a human for safety. This was my nook of land. My place of completion.
I had found magic. I would go to this tree every time my body ached to the absolute brim with sadness. Anger was allowed in my household, it was something I could burst with, and it would make me look stronger to the men in my house. A bitch. Unapproachable. Cold hearted. Words that reassured me I was doing what I had to do to survive. But sadness? If tears came rumbling out of my body then I became weak. A victim to men who shook the entire house with their egos when they walked.
My tree accepted my tears with blossoming flowers and bark that spoke to me with more compassion than any human could give me. This tree taught me lessons of self love, lessons of what it meant to be rooted, to plant, and be where your feet are. It also brought me my first experience of pain. It was my sixteenth birthday and the last month of summer and I had been driving by my town with friends and I saw my tree. A huge part of it had been cut down and in that moment I felt like a part of myself had been cut. Like my heart had been ripped up while my eyes were closed. As soon as I got back I ran to my tree faster than I thought my feet could move.
I climbed my injured tree and felt a pain so real that I had no words that day. There was nothing that I could say or write that would truly give the meaning of this piece of land what it deserved. I spent that day crying in my tree. A push and a pull. An ebb and a flow. My releasing of tears and the leaves that were scattering from the broken down part of the tree. I did not feel alone in my pain. It was astounding to me that it was someone’s job to wake up that morning, get out of bed groggily, slamming down a cup of coffee, putting on work boots and going to saw off part of a big, magnificent tree. I imagine them cutting with a purpose, although I never found out why. There was no one to ask and no answers that could soothe my hurting anyway. It was a topic better left alone, just like the tree should have been.
I think about whether or not the worker would understand what the tree meant to me, what the land meant to me. Maybe if I brought him to the top of the tree where I sat and cradled my heart, maybe if he cradled his heart, too. Or maybe he knows about the value of land more than I do. I hope more than anything that people see this nook of land and they understand it in their own way. Even if it is just simply looking up at it. Just breathing in and out and feeling the knots on the trees and smiling at the mushrooms.
Julia is an environmental science major at Ithaca College. She is from Sussex County, New Jersey.