Four Trees

Elaine was my first love. We were four or five when we first began to meet on the path through the five acre wood separating our houses. At that time the woods, or the trees around the house, were not set in my consciousness, but undulated with mystery, myth and inner light. The persimmon tree and the hickory nut tree, the magnolia tree and the Chinaberry Tree, were living things that had -- like me and Elaine -- been named.

Over time a name loses its magic. When I was in love with Elaine names were new, and bristled with life. The Chinaberry and Magnolia were near the house. The Persimmon was beside the road that snaked up the mountain, and was essentially another terrace into the mountainside. The retaining walls had been built during the Civil War of large granite blocks. The quarry they came from was a little further down the mountain, a wall of exposed stone with a steep path down into to the valley where the Tennessee River flowed.

The hickory nut tree was in the woods, near the path, and it was the only witness when Elaine and I began to examine each other's anatomical differences. She had something I didn't have, and it was of intense interest to me. She seemed equally curious about my appendage, which she was missing. We were still natural children and there was natural curiosity.

Because we were the only local children who were about the same age, we were playmates. I thought she was the most beautiful creature under heaven, which is why I showed her how I could stand back and piss a stream into a chamber pot. She couldn't do that, and this became a source of love between us. I would distance piss for her, and perhaps later on she could do a trick for me, maybe pick up a quarter. Our love caught the attention of the authorities, who served a jealous god.

Suspicious minds are talking. They say that our love is wrong.
They don't know what love is. They don't know what love is.
I know what love is. (Randy Newman)

My mother walked in and saw Elaine watching me piss. She thought this might not be right, because I was a male and Elaine was a female. So she called Elaine's mother and told her about the performance she had witnessed. We were never allowed to play together again.

Aphrodite 1; Psyche 0.

I was already in school by five, so Elaine may have been a little older than me. I remember that it was on the school bus ride up the mountain when she told me she couldn't talk to me any more. When we got off the bus and she wouldn't relent, I got angry and pushed her down in a ditch, and her big brother pushed me down in the ditch. The Persimmon Tree was watching. It was the tree which provided something chocolatey sweet in its season. Captain John Smith wrote that an unripe persimmon "... will drawe a man's mouth awrie with much torment; but when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an Apricock."

They weren't in season. With no wild fruit to eat I went back to my front yard and sat in my tree house by myself, trying to understand why we weren't allowed to be friends anymore. I was angry. The next time I went to Sunday School I sat beside a girl named Charlegne and reached over, under the table, and put my hand up her dress while the teacher was relating Bible stories. "I used to care, but things have changed."

The Magnolia was the play tree. There was a rope tied to a stout limb growing over the edge of the wall nearest the road, so we could swing out into empty space and back again. My tree house was an open platform between two branches; I got to it by climbing a rope ladder. There was also a sit-down swing on one big branch, where my sister, four years older, sat staring into the distance the day after she tried to smother me with a pillow. I came up behind her and hit her with a yard rake. She pretty much stopped bullying me after that.

In the spring the Magnolia produced luscious, heavily perfumed white flowers which were tropical in their total absence of inhibition. She was large for a Magnolia, and very accessible, forking close to the ground and with branches spaced right for climbing.

The Chinaberry tree wasn't so familiar. It didn't watch over the awakening of my interest in girls, my playing and fighting with my sister, or the end of my first love affair. It grew yellow berries and dropped them on the ground. I couldn't climb it. There wasn't a fork or branch I could reach. It seemed distant, like China. The chinaberries weren't good to eat. Mostly they lay on the ground and rotted. If one sprouted it most likely got run over by the lawn mower, or aborted with a hoe. Trees couldn't grow around the house without permission.

The grounds around the house reflected reason and control. There were paths and expansive lawns of bermuda grass that seemed to take forever for a kid to mow. There was a springhouse with steps made of those massive granite blocks, leading down into the earth. A stone cistern stayed filled with cold, sweet water. In a second, shallow rectangular pool, minnows were stocked for fish bait. There was a smokehouse beside the main house, and a chicken house backing onto the uppermost terrace, at the edge of the woods.

Beyond that wall, nature was left alone. If the Chinaberry Tree had been up there in those woods, it would have had a better chance of reproducing more Chinaberry Trees. I say "a better chance" because there's always a chance. The one beside the house might have borne trees it didn't know about, or ever get to stand close to. Maybe a robin carried berries away into the woods, and one fell where it could germinate. Once the seed gets to the woods, the control is from down below, not up above. Animals can carry the seed inside them and pass it onto the ground, surrounded by a protective cocoon, until it can achieve penetration and sustain itself from below while reaching up toward the sunshine.

Across the road from the frontmost terrace there was a sinkhole just down the hill. If you fell into it you'd come out in China, because it didn't have a bottom. There were a couple of strands of barbed wire around the perimeter but any kid could easily slide right down the bank and into that hole. If you threw a rock into the mouth of it, you couldn't hear it hit. That meant there wasn't any bottom.

If you fell you would fall a long, long time.

What is forgotten becomes a stranger. I could see the stranger in Elaine, reflected like moonlight on water. The image has shifted and changed with the currents of time and circumstance. The image has reflected back to me over and over again, animating action, creation, and union. Blake said that those who can contain their desire have an easily contained desire. I think he had something there.

The journey away from the soul and back to union with her is a circumnavigation of the earth to find out if there is a matching sinkhole in China, opposite the one Elaine and I cautiously peered into when we were children, and distance pissing was the sport of kings.

Posted: Fri - February 17, 2006 at 07:35 PM