Sticks and Stones

by nicolecallihan

I have been thinking still of trees: pear trees and peach trees; skin-and-bone trees; stick-and-stone trees; red trees, blue trees; the tree on the hill in Wyoming; the pecan tree in Mama Heaton’s backyard and how we’d crack the shells with our teeth; the crabapple tree over at the Miller’s and how it stank of sweet. Then there is the Weeping Willow, the huge Weeping Willow out at Lake Lure. I was eight, maybe nine. Something terrible was happening. Divorce or insanity or someone sick or dying. Mom was drinking coffee on the screened-in porch, talking from early morning until night until her throat was sore from too much talking, then sleeping–fitfully–and doing it again. I remember going and laying under that Weeping Willow and knowing that I would always remember that day; staring up through the willows, I marked it. All these years later, I can’t remember which grief we were suffering; I only remember the tree and the hard ground beneath me.
All last week, I drove around Oklahoma, stunned by the damage from the ice storm. Trees were completely uprooted. Piles and piles of limbs waited to be carried away. People said that the most frightening thing during the storm was hearing the broken branches shatter when they hit the ground. Imagine: sitting in complete darkness (save the flashlight you’ve dug from the crowded kitchen drawer) and hearing glass after glass crash to the earth.
I’ve only been back a day, and already I’m having trouble recalling the devastation. I guess I’m most struck this afternoon by how insular our lives are. Perhaps it’s the only way to be, the only to way to happily be: to feel just the earth that is under you and to be thankful that it hasn’t been pulled from beneath you by some giant invisible hand.

Here, in Brooklyn, outside my window, a man holding orange roses has turned his back from the wind to light his cigarette. Winter is settling in. This old year’s hours are numbered, and the sun casts a long shadow across the wood of my desk, a shadow that–come nightfall–will be all but forgotten.