The Tree

March 29, 2006, 7:10 PM

The train arrived, and we were the last people on it because Tara's ticket said she was supposed to sit a few rows away from Mom and me. We were about to ask this guy who worked at the station if that could be changed, but then he saw us and waved us on to the train. That was when I saw we were last, and I gulped, wondering what we would do if the train left without us.

Mom brought out some oranges, cashews, and fruit bars as soon as the train began to move. I read and ate whatever was set before me. Sometimes the train would stop for a few minutes, right in the middle of the track, not anywhere close to a station. Just stop. I wasn't sure why. Maybe we were going too fast and we had caught up to some other train which we weren't supposed to catch up to. But, like I said, I wasn't sure. But I was glad of them, because it was during one of these stops that I saw the tree.

The train started to slow down, and I knew we were about to stop. The halt was spent looking out at the countryside - at least, for the first few minutes. But then I noticed something.

In the distance I could see a beautiful tree, taking many forms. Like printed words that have been broken by age, it was not completely legible through the many leafless trees. But there were many creatures I could see, though the beasts' bodies were not always complete.

The first thing I saw was the graceful curving neck of a swan, beginning at the meeting point of neck and body and ending with the snapping orange-black beak.

Now, just above the swan were two slightly pointed branches which gave it the appearance of an elegant Reynard, the swan's long neck now shaped to be the furry white chest.

The greatest mass of the tree, down near the ground, appeared as a stocky, loping bear just coming out of his earthy winter's den. He had paused as he sniffed the first scents of spring and his paws rested upon the newly-thawed ground.

Then the slim shining velvet antlers of a deer danced up out of the leafless top branches. The deer was a buck, recently-matured and eagerly awaiting the last months of the year, when his first mating-season would begin. Of course, I could only see the antlers, but even those told me his hopes and anxieties for that blissful time.

Then the train began to move. "Not yet!" That was what I wanted to say to the train conductor. "Not yet!" But I had to content myself with grumbling it to my mother. But I was also partially glad that the train moved. As it began, I picked up the complete form of a larger-than-life parasitic cockroach in a particularly thick branch.

And finally, as the train began to speed off, I saw the last beast I had time to see: a pheasant. It was not complete. Only about half of it could be seen, as if it were cautiously peeking out through a bush it had been hiding in - possibly because of a rampaging farmhand who had stubbed his toe and was currently kicking up dust and chaos for no understandable reason.

But it was also in a position which made it look as if it were straining to pull out a resistant worm. Like in cartoons, where the worm stretches, and stretches, and then the bird is sent flying back from the effort and the worm takes its chance to wiggle away underground.

And then I wondered. I wondered, How many shapes could I have seen, had I been right in front of the tree, not gazing at it through a reflecting window and a flock of other trees?

I imagined caressing its roots as I searched the grains of wood for a picture, a passage which could lead me on my way to a story. I imagined swaying with the tree on its branches in a storm, finding a place where a picture might fit in between the tree, the wind, the rain, the lightning, and the thunder.

And I imagined the shapes, whether regular or not, the bodies full or a fraction.

And I enjoyed the dream, and as I thought about it, I realized something.

That tree, that one beautiful tree, had just opened my eyes to every figure in plant, tree, fruit, or vegetable.

This was just the beginning.