Red oak rising

Published 8:14 am Wednesday, December 31, 2008

When I was one year old, my survival was in doubt. The leaves were such that I couldn’t breathe and the shade was such that I couldn’t see. Enveloped, like umbrellas, by gigantic canopies, it seemed I would never rise. Were it not for that single ray of sunlight that penetrated the leafy ceiling everyday at mid morn, I would have been but dust. But for those few minutes each day I soaked in its life-giving nutrients and somehow grew feet and arms and legs. And I started reaching for the skies.

When I was 10, my bark started changing from that slick, childish texture to that rougher, deeper quality I had long envied in my father. I cherished the springtime when I could show off my new leaves and stretch my feet out a little more.

When I was 20, I felt more like a tree than ever. By now, I had taken my place among the forest canopy. It felt wonderful to draw water from the ground and squeeze it up my trunk into the outer limbs. And the sunlight! No longer must I fight for it. It came to me. In bucketfuls, it came to me and saturated my body such that I basked in its glory.

When I was 26, a pair of squirrels built a nest on one of my shoulders. I was honored and did my best to protect them. It tickled when they frolicked up and down my branches, but I didn’t move.

At 35, a great snow storm came through. It was beautiful, but it loaded my limbs such that I ached for days.

During the summer when I was 43, I saw lightning hit a fellow oak. It was loud and terrifying, and we knew that he would not last long. And he didn’t.

By the time I was 50, it seemed I had seen it all. Now, instead of being overshadowed, I was overshadowing. Instead of living in fear, I rested in confidence. The seasons passed quickly as I glanced out over the world and displayed my splendor each spring. It seemed I would live forever. But it was not to be.

At 64, three men came to my trunk. They had visited me on other occasions, but this time was different. One of them had a strange machine in his hand that made a loud noise. As he set it against my base, I realized that the end was at hand. As my larger limbs were to the east, I fell in that direction. Surprisingly, the fall was not painful as my arms cushioned the plunge to the ground. And, alas, my role in the forest ended.

You might think this the end of me, but I beg to differ. I live on. I live in that paper you are now reading. I live in that chair upon which you sit. I live in that fireplace that keeps you warm. I live in the desk and the cabinets and the very walls that hold up the building you are now in.

But more than ever, were you to go back to my birthplace, where the sunlight floods in due to my absence, you’d find a thousand tiny acorns, just beneath the leafy forest floor, soaking up the sunlight, waiting to make their entrance into the world.