The sidewalk here in Hamtown might have the occasional wrapper drifting across it, and the houses a bit of peeling paint, but anywhere you go, looking up into a tree provides the same timeless view that cushioned my dreams and introspections in childhood. I want to lie down on my back and let this be my only view for the rest of the day. But this tree's base is on the other side of the wrought iron fence that keeps the grounds of Immaculate Conception protected and beautiful.
Immaculate Conception is a Ukranian Catholic church, and in my Ukranian Catholic grandpa's backyard I had a tree like this when I was little. I wish I was small enough to scramble up there. Again. Like I used to. Always in trees, barefoot and dirty. Will I ever feel that good again? I don't think so. I'm aware of too much now, and knowledge can have the effect of limiting horizons. Those days I spent in trees were bordered by no frame; life was a limitless infinity, as was I by extension.
I can feel the solidness of the tree beneath my feet, my legs, my hands. A good climbing tree like this one is harder than concrete, and more real. Gravity pulls me deeper and harder onto the branches. My feet hang down on each side of a fat limb, and when I hug the trunk it is a grandpa and I could sleep here forever, being held firmly and rocked gently. Swaying. Rustling leaves filling my head with white noise, all that matters. Voices down below, kids yelling to "throw the ball!" and moms calling "dinner!" are far away. I'm in another reality.
I'm in charge.
If the grownups only knew how often I've defied death up here. So many close calls that don't stop me. Branches too thin or old, snapping when I need them, thirty feet over hard-packed backyard. Converse All Star lowtops worn smooth on sidewalks that slip; bare feet are safer.
Cold eats you up here. I can hear my mom calling, telling me to put a jacket on if I'm going to stay outside. But she doesnﾒt know where I am. They never do. They never think to look up in the tree. Reluctance to leave my leafy, sturdy, meditative keeps me up here sometimes even when they've called for hours, and I know the mood has moved from annoying through worrisome to panicked. I stay still in my tree, silent.
The magic gets wrecked somehow if they know I'm up here. I'm invisible to them.
My grandpa built six picnic tables for my aunt Cindy's backyard wedding reception, under my tree. I think I was eleven. Judgment went down with the sun and the Blatz, and my grandpa gave me a lesson in the fine art of guzzling beer. A whole can, really fast. I climbed my tree, full of synthetic magic, and fell to the ground where I stayed looking up through the branches, happy.
Thanks, Hamtramck tree, for keeping the portal open.