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The tree (1)

Here's a story from my childhood days.  Thanks to Paula Morrel and the good people at Tales from the South for allowing me to share it on their program and publishing it in their book Tales from the South: Volume 3.

One day when I was about twelve, I was out in the spacious field that served as our back yard. Both of my brothers were otherwise occupied, so it was just me and three black walnut trees that stood close to the fence row. I got the itch to climb one of those trees and I couldn’t keep from scratching. You see, the way we grew up in our small town in north Alabama, trees were for climbing. If you had not climbed a tree in your yard it was the equivalent of a broncobuster not having ridden a certain horse. Something was out of order in your universe until that tree had been climbed and conquered. Something had to give and I decided it was going to be the tree. 


If you’ve never seen black walnuts growing on a tree, the first thing you would notice about them is that they aren’t black at all but a pale, greenish-yellow color. (They don’t turn black until the hull shrivels up and dries). When ripe, they are almost the size of a baseball, have a pebbly coarse texture, and a strong, acrid smell. If the skin is scraped or cut on one of them, it will “bleed,” leaving a nasty stain that is impossible to wash away and has to wear off. 


Black walnuts hang in clusters of two to five.  Sometimes a cluster will be together with another cluster or maybe even two or three clusters. In the fall of each year, my dad, my two brothers and I would all go out and find the few walnuts that had fallen early and start throwing them at the walnuts still in the trees. The idea was to aim for the highest walnuts in the trees. If you connected, then on their way down they would hit other clusters, breaking them up and causing more walnuts to fall.  With four of us throwing, things could really get going and the walnuts would be raining down and drumming the ground like giant, mutant hailstones. Of course, we would all have green hands for the next couple of weeks, but we understood this was the tree’s user fee for the fun we had.


All of the boys had climbed the low-branched maple trees in the front yard but the three walnut trees in the back were another story.  They had no low branches. Their thick trunks just went straight up with nothing to grab hold of or give you a foothold. In fact, unless you had fur, claws and a bushy tail, two of the three trees were impossible to climb. The third tree forked in two at about four feet off the ground. This was the tree I decided I would climb. 


I managed to bear hug my way up the fork that went to the right, pushing off of the opposing fork with my left foot until I made it up to the lowest branch about ten feet high. As I scooted out on the limb and looked out over the back yard, I had a feeling of accomplishment. While basking in my triumph though, it slowly occurred to me that though I might have won the battle, the tree was going to win the war for there was nowhere left to climb. The next branch up was out of reach and bear-hugging to get to it was too risky. This left me with nothing to do but climb down. 


With a feeling of emptiness, I began my descent. To accomplish this, I basically bear-hugged the tree and slid down, this time not using my left foot on the opposing fork. As a result, I slid down fairly fast. In fact, I slid down all the way to the point where the tree forked. My left leg got stuck in the fork, but the rest of me continued downward so that my knee ended up being at about the level of my chest and my right foot stopped about six inches from the ground.  After a few moments of trying to extricate myself, I accepted the unfortunate truth that I was stuck and would remain there for years to come if someone didn’t come and rescue me.


The tree (2)


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