Thursday, April 5, 2007

"Disregarding Danger"

In the park near my father’s apartment there is a curious tree that grows horizontally over the creek. It’s origin, it’s roots never quite in the bright light of sun. The unlikely existence of this tree forced it to grow in an unnatural position. The trunk like a grown man’s leg, straight and long, hovers parallel to the ground. The bark is smooth and almost soft, perfectly round. The grass below it rises up around it, a mass of verdant hairs. As this beautiful tree reaches the embankment, it forms a bend and stands over the creek, growing from thin air, stretching towards the sunlight that filters through the other trees in the woods. My father lets me test my bravery and balance on this tree. He lets me take off my shoes and socks so I can feel every grain and knot, my toes curling around the edges as if on the balance beam in gym class. I walk out on this trunk without his help and at the bend I am suspended two feet over the ledge of the embankment. To fall the distance to the water and rocks below would mean breaking something. My father disregards this danger. No fear ever washes over his face as I do this and my soul soars with the freedom. My heart nearly bursts with the joy that he trusts in the grace of my being. Holding on to the upright branches, I am enchanted with the dancing light peering through the leaves of the tallest trees. It seems impossible to me that this tree can survive amongst these giants that it can continue to thrive against the odds. The pureness of the air, cooler and cleaner over the water, refreshes me. I get lost in the motion picture of pollens and dust floating by in the rays of light. Listening to the birds chirp their morning songs, I think of the stories my father and I made up the night before, listening to classical music with the window open to the summer night. He told me the music could tell any story that I could think of, each instrument a voice for a character that only I could create. The thought of it was magical and fantastical; it was so unlike the life I was leading. I fell asleep that night telling a story that I can no longer remember. He had treated me to stories of his own travels out in the world; stories of canoeing down the Mississippi river with his dog Napoleon, and how they walked the Appalachian Trail from stem to stern. I imagined my father out there as a young man with his head full of loose, sandy brown curls, and laugh that could shake the blues from just about anyone. I think of these adventures and his bravery as I test the mechanics of my body on this limb. Napoleon sits there at the root, half covered in the tall grass. He sits there without being told to, like it is in his nature to watch over me. His eyes follow my every move in anticipation of a rescue, for his trust in my skills, is not like the trust of my father. When I have lingered long enough over the water to feel strong and sure, long enough to feel like I have tested my will to the best of my ability, I walk the length of the trunk back. I sit down on its’ roots to put on my socks and shoes and I can see Napoleon’s tail waging, making the grass quiver. I place my hand on his velvet, black head as he licks my cheek. He is a loving dog. My father has walked far ahead into the forest and we run to catch up with him. Napoleon and I race each other. I push my legs to go as fast as they can, until I feel them burning. We look sideways at each other to see who will win. Napoleon always wins, but that never matters to me. It is the racing at full speed that matters. It is the pushing of the limits that matters. I smile at the way his long, pink tongue flaps in the breeze of his stride. I know my father can hear our approach for he reaches his hand out to the side, and lets my hand slip into it; the strength of his arms stopping my inertia. The callousness of his hands, rough from his work, with dirt ground in gives me quiet comfort. It is a wonder that a hand used for such hard work can be innately tender. My heart swells in the shining of his silent trust in my ability to keep myself safe. It seems too much to ask of someone to have that kind of faith in such a short time together. I cannot understand the nature of it, or how it can grow so quickly from so little. We walk the rest of the morning with this new feeling surging between us, each of us not wanting it to dissipate. As he teaches me about the nature in this forest and its offerings, I smile into myself at this feeling of wholeness that I have never known until this day. I did not know if I would ever feel it again, so I hold it close for all its worth, capturing its’ essence for a day when I will need it again. Aleathia Drehmer 2007

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