The Tree

“Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realize they were the big things.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

“She liked to lie on the bed in that small room and watch the clouds drift past. Sometimes they created an optical illusion that made it seem as if she could see the earth’s rotation and, when that happened, she would think about how all the buildings and trees and people, everything, including the atmosphere, took up only the tiniest area, just the very top layer of the planet, and it made all of life seem terribly fragile.  Other times, the clouds made her feel peaceful, like a baby looking up at a mobile, and she would lie there allowing her thoughts to drift and float. She didn’t need much to be happy, she thought. Just peace and quiet, a window, the sky. She wasn’t like other people who needed so much.”

She likes simple things for many reasons. The cat resting on her chest, eyes closed, purring gently, as she lays quietly on the sofa herself,  makes her feel connected to life in a way few things can. Certainly no man’s head or hand on her chest has ever felt quite as good as the cat does. Lovers always seem to need just a bit more than what they say they do. With the cat it is all said at once. Simple. Likewise, when the dog sits at the window looking at the world outside, and she is at her desk, writing, coffee in the cup, it seems all is good and as it should be.  The same could be said about getting a meal together. Knowing when it is ready she will love the taste of it is all the reward she needs for the effort, which she does not care so much for. Walking simply to walk, reading a new book, playing a bit of music, with the cat on the sofa and the dog on the floor, give her all she requires most days.

Today a change in the routine is what is required she thinks. Not in so many words, more like a feeling it is. Restlessness. The moon is waxing, near first quarter, and thus visible through the window, in the later evening, as it makes its way past the church spire to the East. This observation she remembers as the sky begins to lighten with it’s winter season softness, and she glances out the window half expecting to still see it.

Typically a Sunday morning is the quietest interval of her week. She does not attend church service, though she likes it once a year, in December, when the congregation seems to be almost sincere in their rituals. It reminds her of her upbringing, and her long deceased parents.  It is close to that time again, and she is looking forward to her once a year pilgrimage to attend Mass in the big cathedral, but that is not for another week.

Today she is unsure what to do, yet aware she wishes to do something oblique. Something physical perhaps.  It is too cold to go swimming of course, though it is always her first choice. Bicycling is always the easy fallback position, but that is too ordinary for how she feels today. If she owned a car a trip upriver for a walk in the big state park would fit the bill, but she only has the morning and that is not enough time to arrange a trip like that.

In the end, she settles on a simpler solution. Following a bit of breakfast and her normal morning reading routine, she puts her camera and her water bottles and her phone in her fanny pack and heads to the town limits, to the nearby countryside. It is well past time she spent a few hours out of doors she thinks, and for once there is little snow on the ground in mid-December.  She decides, most unusually, to leave the animals at home.  The sky is clear-gray, Great Lakes overcast. The mid-40’s that always feels like the mid-20’s to folks from the dry Western states. For a moment she remembers him, with his inadequate winter clothes.  He laughed about how cold he was all the time, though he had grown up with it, but he had been gone from here for a long time. His face and head were well protected with all that hair though, and so it balanced things, sort of.

She finds the trail easily, and is soon in the mood she sensed she needed without being able to say it. As she navigates the ruts and stones she is disappointed by the now bare plant life, wishing it was greener.  Soon enough she begins to appreciate the bareness for its own beauty, and to look for what might be hidden within nonetheless. She is always looking, curious to a fault really. She likes that about herself. It is a balance, in a way, to her love of simple.  A kilometer or so after passing the town limits, the terrain begins to climb. Before long she passes out of the open fields and into the woods. In here the sense of other life is stronger, as usual. It is long past the time of the morning’s bird song, the sounds are more rustling in nature, though a few chirps announce the warning of her approach.  This too fits her view of the world quite well, and now she begins to acquire what she has come for this day. Her heart beat is up a bit, her skin is beginning to heat up, and her eyes clear.  They begin to focus on the distance better then they ever do inside where everything is always so close at hand. And she feels the life of it all.

At the top of the first hill she pauses to rest by a favorite tree and sip some water.  It is a few yards off the now very narrow trail. She had discovered the tree many years ago, and always stops by to say hello. Judging by its diameter she knows it to be in excess of 100 years old, quite possibly the oldest tree in this part of the woods. She sometimes stands looking at it and trys to imagine it all alone here, as it must have once been. As she herself is now.  Sitting she puts her back to it, and as always looks up and admires the view of it’s elaborate branch structure.  Marvels at it, really, as that is what she probably likes best about most trees, how truly majestic in structure they are. Strong certainly, and complicated. She laughs once, thinking “not unlike the men she has always been attracted to”.  This one is a ponderosa pine, a native, also like her.  She likes the feel of its bark thru her jacket and sweater, which softens it’s otherwise deep slotted texture. If she moved a bit she could give herself a pleasant little back scratch.  She takes a drink, and fiddles a bit with the camera. She knows she has enough pictures of this old tree, so does not linger long with it. The light today is flat and unflattering anyway. She puts it away, confident it is ready should something call for it.

She begins to daydream. She has not dreamed at night for quite a while as far as she can recall, and welcomes it now.  It begins with a conversation with her friend the tree. The usual greetings, how are you, anything new, the sort of stuff friends always do. Feeling the bit of breeze moving it as if in answer.  Soon enough, she thinks of the cat, her best friend, and the dog her second best friend, though those positions are prone to change from time to time. She loves them both, of course, and they always come to the fore first, as any real love would.  Next, she thinks about the painting she finished this week. It’s good she thought, better then the last few, truth be told. I am satisfied with it, it feels right. As do the new songs. All in all things are very good right now. Simple and good.  Though I could perhaps use a bit more free time. I have too much on my plate really. And now with holidays coming up and all the family and friend gatherings, things will be a bit crazy for a couple of weeks. Of course. That’s why I am here this morning. A bit of a respite from the wind that has been preceding that squall on the horizon.

Going a bit deeper she thought of the morning news, and how she wished she could pull herself away from it. What if, like any addict, I just went cold turkey and stopped reading it. I got over listening to the radio easily enough. And I never watched TV, my whole life almost. I don’t need it, not at all, anymore, really. It is all so out of my control, nothing I can do or say will make any difference. Any. I should try it.  The movie was good the other night. I should go more often, I really do like the experience, when the film is good there is nothing like sitting in the dark theatre with it. I know I don’t go more often because I don’t have anyone to go with.  I really dislike how it makes me feel like the old maid when I go alone. If only I could take the cat. Of course then I would be seen as the crazy cat lady. Yea.  Who was that guy at the store 2 days ago? He was cool. Sigh. So many are, at first. It’s the later I can’t handle.

Inside, in the end, I know alone is best for me. Always has been. I remember the days at home, once the basement got it’s walls painted and tile on the concrete and mom and dad put the couch down there. That was my place to be. Alone, reading. I remember the feeling so well. It was comforting to be there. Still is.

I wonder how JT is doing now? He and Carol are so good together.  I miss him. Them. What a father he is. So unlike dad.  I think Paul is going to be a talent one day.  I wish I had not tossed that painting away that Melvina did for me when she was 3.  Well, one does what feels best at the moment, and then, later…

I do wonder about Jim, of course, how could I not? Mary Ellen is likely dead now. She lasted a long, long time, given her illness. Wishing is most often counterproductive, and not really a useful practice. I guess I would rather say it would be interesting to know if who I think she was is true. A nice woman, if a bit deceptive, more like Jeanette than Mom.  Of course when it comes to the family, Mom was the only one I really knew. There was never anything false about her. Unlike all the rest of us. She always played it just right. Such a wise woman.  Well, except maybe a bit wrong-headed about dad. But who’s to say, really? It worked on some level for them, even as it seemed out of balance at times.  Perhaps they too were simple enough.

Like I am.

Author: RJMS

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