THE RIGHT TREES
I wish I’d spent more time outside growing up, back when we lived in the big house with the big yard on the corner lot. Appreciated the doomed Dutch elm while there was still time. Climbed the oaks and planted their acorns, nature’s tiny sculptures. Picked up seed pods from the maples to flick like helicopter rotors, or squirt at unsuspecting friends. Paused to gaze up at the pines more, their branches reaching the sky, or looked down at the carpet of needles they shed at my feet. Listened to the crackle and crunch they made beneath my shoes as I breathed in their minty perfume.
I could have paid more attention to the Osage orange with its mossy green, softball-sized lumpy spheres. Admired the delicate dogwoods, their artful pink and white blossoms inviting me to savor their beauty. Sampled more fruit from the mulberry, peach, and apple trees before the squirrels enjoyed their own feasts. I could have collected more buckeyes from the Ohio buckeye that straddled the boundary between the neighbors’ front yard and ours, polished more of its wooden orbs with my sleeve till they shone, chunks of good luck to carry in my pocket. I could have played more Wiffle Ball and Hotbox in our side yard, using the trunks of the sturdy black walnuts as bases. Raked up the gum balls that fell from the sweet gum by the driveway, their spiky seedpods perfect stand-ins for snowmen’s eyes and noses.
The trees were all around me, like sentries watching over my home, over me, their branches swaying slightly as though to beckon me. “Come outside while you can,” they whispered in the breeze, “Join us while you still have time.” Time to stand beneath them, to climb them, to marvel at them. But I was a fickle friend, visiting only occasionally. Meanwhile, they were patient, loyal companions, waiting, offering me their branches, their trunks, their leaves, their flowers, their seeds and pods, their shade.
My favorite tree, the one that won my heart when I was a child, did not live in my yard. Once a year, it appeared inside my living room, as though summoned from the North Pole. Unlike the small forest outside, its purpose was to create a magical illusion. Laden with colored glass balls; with shiny, thin, metallic strips, colored lights, and red and white candy canes, with plastic reindeer and Santas and elves, it was topped with a shining star.
The tree I loved the most, waited for all year, the one that awaited me every Christmas morning, was a manmade spectacle fashioned for a childhood fantasy, the fulfillment of an annual promise. My favorite was too good to be true and too evanescent to last, bedecked in a sparkling, fleeting façade, a flashy relative to its surviving ancestors, who waited for me outside.
Linda Murphy Marshall is a multi-linguist and writer with a Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literature, a Master’s in Spanish, and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her nonfiction and fiction work has been published or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, Maryland Literary Review, American Literary Review, Bacopa Literary Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Storgy, Flash Fiction Magazine, PopMatters, and others. In addition, she is a reader for Fourth Genre and is Translation Editor at the Los Angeles Review.