I am a tree; a bold, vibrant, strong tree. My roots have held fast to this very ground for many, many years. I have become one with the soil beneath me. It knows me and I know it. My branches have swayed to and fro through fierce wind and storm and they have sat silent, basking in the midday sun. A glorious life indeed for a tree. Many like me have grown up before me only to be uprooted by the harsh reality of this world. I have seen much with my old eyes and have felt bitter despair course through my wooded veins.
“How?” You may ask.
May I tell you a story?
May I share with you how I received my name?
Gather round my aging body and listen well. It may serve you on this road of life.
This story starts as any other does, full of hope and beauty. There was not always a time that I was strong and sturdy. I grew to be that way, fashioned by the will to survive, hardened by the force of the wind. I struggled and grew; lost a few pieces of me along the way but I eventually turned out to be pretty ok, if I do say so myself!
Being the sturdy, trusty tree that I was, many a folk would come and rest at the base of my roots. My branches stretched far and wide, every inch bathed in a fluorescent shade of green. The spring and summer were so kind to my leaves. And in the fall? My, oh my, the colors! Young and old from near and far came to marvel at my beauty. What a sight to behold indeed.
One summer day as I basked in the warmth of the sun, I felt a presence cuddle close to me and breathe a sigh of relief. I was quite used to this as many a soul would find shelter underneath my strong arms during the warm months but this time was different. Something prompted my old eyes to take a deeper look. With a little help from the wind, my old trunk slowly bent over ever so slightly as to gaze upon this new visitor.
What permeated my heart was something I had never seen before. Through every season, every changing color of the leaf, every new blossoming spud, my eyes had never beheld anything more beautifully serene.
There, upon my roots, sat a young girl, no more than 17 years of age. Her hair was the shade of the sun, brilliantly orange. Her skin radiated an innocence as if the sun had never laid it’s wicked hands upon her. Her beauty encapsulated me and I leaned ever more forward to take in every breathtaking detail.
I had not realized how old I had become for every inch I moved a loud crack would erupt from within. This incessant creaking attracted the eyes of young girl.
“My apologies, miss.” I whispered softly to myself.
Her brilliant green eyes lit up and seemed to respond “All is well Mama tree…”
That is what they call me after all. It is rather comforting to me to attain such a reputation but oddly displacing due to its revealing nature of my age. It seems that I’m as much of a constant as the smell of fresh apple pie wafting through the hillside where I rest. Not but a few hundred yards from where I sat, a small house presided upon a crest. Kids would oft run and play through the grass, tickled by the movements of the local bugs. Ah, what a joy to my heart.
A small ache in my roots reminded me of reality and I snapped back into focus. The young girl had removed her eyes from my intertwining existence and placed them firmly in an open book upon her lap. Of Mice and Men, I believe it was.
She sat for what seemed like hours, completely enraptured by the wiles of the adventurous tale. I must admit that I, too, was even caught up in its whimsy. What brought us both back into reality was a soft call echoing from the house upon the crest.
“Laura Lee, time for dinner” it beckoned ever so softly.
The young girl peeled her eyes off of her book, a quick smile dashed upon her face, and up she went answering the call. It was then that I realized who it was that sat at my feet that very day. This was the same girl that I watched chase butterflies through the hills. The very same child I watched trip time and time again on a single pesky divot in the ground. Each time she would shed a tear less. This was the very same girl that used to climb up and down my branches (when we were both smaller might I add). My how she had grown! I can’t remember the last time I saw her childish face come into my view. I became saddened by the reality of time’s evading nature but was filled with renewed joy, hoping she would come back.
Indeed she did. Everyday in fact! The summer of that year was a blistering one. Of course she would come and find shelter underneath Mama Tree! My heart swelled with pride. I was amazed at how many books she read those few months. What more could one do in the countryside beside read a book anyway?
Then, as fast as Laura Lee had appeared, she disappeared just as quick. August came and went, September just the same, and even October. My leaves turned a different shade and began falling off. With every leafy loss I felt a bit of disappointment grow within me. Where had she gone? What was she doing?
“She must have found a bigger, better tree to sit underneath.” I reckoned with myself. “You’ve not always been known for having the softest roots you know?”
The clear October weather chilled my branches but its presence brought with it a familiar scent. I quickly turned my attention to the house on the crest and there, just above the horizon, was Laura Lee quickly approaching. My heart jumped with joy! She had not forgotten about me after all! I quickly realized that she had something in tow. Something bigger, hairier, and more awkward in tow…It was a boy.
It all began to make sense in my mind. She had disappeared all of this time because of a boy! I would have to tell a lie to say that I wasn’t a bit jealous but my excitement over her return superseded my confusion.
“This was the tree I was telling you about, Michael!”
“Mhm. You better have told him.” I thought to myself.
“Looks like your typical tree to me.” He responded with a smug look. I hated him already.
“No, Michael! This isn’t just any tree! This is Mama tree. I’ve sat beneath her, climbed her branches, and watched her change colors all of my life! She’s so much more than just a tree!”
“That’s more like it.” I thought.
“Well, if she means that much to you then she means a lot to me too!” He said with an awkward smile.
“Typical suck up.” I reasoned. “I oughta reach down and smack him in the head.”
She smiled, wrapped her arms around his neck, and went in for a kiss. Despite my growing hatred for the boy, I couldn’t help but smile within my heart of hearts. Laura Lee was happy.
That was not the last I saw of Michael. They spent the fall traipsing through the leaves that once resided upon my branches. They laughed, built snowmen, and had snowball fights around my trunk during the winter. They laid at my feet during the Spring nights gazing at the stars. Life was beautiful. I looked forward to each day I would see them trampling over the hilltop coming to me. If this was all there was to life, I would die a happy tree.
One late, hot Spring day, I rested my eyes upon the hilltop from whence they always came. It was about that time of day and I was curious as to what new adventure the day would bring. Right on cue, I saw a head ascend over the horizon and into view. Closer and closer it came but only one head remained.
“Odd.” I said. “Where’s the boy?”
Laura Lee came ever closer and I began to hear the faint sob of a young girl’s cry.
Indeed. Laura Lee had tears streaming down her face. She sat down, cuddled into one of my crevasses, and wept.
“Oh darling girl. What is it?” If only a tree could speak.
She didn’t utter a word that day. The soft voice beckoned over the hilltop and Laura Lee disappeared from sight.
“Maybe it will be better tomorrow.” I thought, full of hope.
Tomorrow came and the next day after that. Tears, tears, and more tears streamed down this beautiful girl’s face. Something had gone terribly, terribly wrong.
To my surprise, the third day brought along a second shadow cresting the hill. Angry voices permeated the spring air.
“How could you? You said you loved me!” Laura Lee was as distraught as she had been.
“I did..I do! It meant nothing! She kissed me first!”
“Yeah? And did it mean ‘nothing’ when you slept with her? Was that nothing?”
“Yes…no…I don’t know! She came on to me and I couldn’t help it! What do you want from me?” He reached in to hold on to her arms while she hurriedly pulled away.
“What do I want from you? What do I want? Why should I even have to describe that to you? You said you loved me, you slept with another girl, end of story. The only thing I ever wanted was for you to be honest. If you never loved me why did you say it to me?”
“Honestly…I don’t know.”A change had come over the boy now. He was no longer defensive. A demon had set in his eyes. “Maybe I never did love you. Maybe you were just a waste of time after all. You never gave me what I wanted so I figured I’d find it somewhere else! I guess you’re right…I never meant any of it…You were a waste of time and now you can be somebody else’s garbage.” Venom spewed out of his mouth as he walked off.
Laura Lee collapsed in a pile of tears. She was nothing, reduced to nothing by the words of a slimy boy. My roots ached with anger. My branches shook with fury. No boy was ever going to talk to my girl that way. During my fit of rage, I realized that the sobbing had stopped. I looked down and Laura Lee was nowhere to be found. Looking up I saw her sprinting towards her home. My heart burned with pain. My sweet, dear Laura Lee was broken.
The sun had set over the horizon and the night sky fell upon the land. For some reason this night felt darker than others. I slipped into a cold slumber and the world faded away.
I felt something press against one of my branches and it awoke me from my sleep. It was dark and I could not see. All I knew was that something was climbing its way up my trunk.
Sheer silence fell over the night as I desperately tried to acclimate my eyes to the night sky. When they finally adjusted I realized that the substance climbing my branches was none other than Laura Lee. My heart settled down.
“Maybe she just needed to get away and breathe.” I found myself soothed by the thought that she still needed me.
The sound of something sliding into placed brought my attention back to her. My heart stopped as I realized what Laura Lee was doing. In her hand was a noose, fashioned into the likeness of death, wrapped around my strongest branch.
I screamed out as loud as I could, rustled my leaves as fervently as I could. Anything to get her attention. With one final tear she slipped the noose around her neck and slowly fell off of my branch.
A snap of the rope caught her neck and there she was hanging lifeless; her fiery red hair faded to black, her pale, innocent skin turned blue, the life left her eyes.
All that was heard that night was the soft swaying of the rope grinding back and forth; the reminder of an innocent life lost.
I remember the horror on her parent’s faces when they found their daughter. I remember the screams, the horrific retching, and the pain that flooded this hillside. I remember the moment of silence as they drove her body off to the graveside.
The hillside grew quiet, dark, and grey. My branches never grew another leaf. My roots began withering. The house on the crest of the hill was shortly abandoned and left to rot. No one came to visit me anymore for my beauty. No one had a reason to marvel at my immaculate leaves. My name, Mama Tree, was changed to “The Hangin’ Tree”. It is here that those who wish for death find it.
They’re coming to cut me down soon. They say I’m bad luck. What did I do to deserve this? Nothing, nothing at all. I was once the epitome of love but am now reduced to the resting place of those who’ve lost it all. I am ready to rest, I am ready to be cut down.
Let this story be a soft reminder to you that love isn’t always the answer. Beauty isn’t always skin deep. It won’t take long for something good to become something bad. What you do with your life and what you put your hope in determines your outcome.
Oh that Laura Lee would have known her own beauty and worth. Maybe, just maybe, she would still be here today and I wouldn’t be known as “The Hangin’ Tree”.