The Hall Tree

Like most kids (and monkeys, which are somewhat the same), I used to love to climb trees. One of my favorite trees to climb was the hall tree, which grew in the back right hand corner of our yard. This being the sand hills of Georgia, and where we were, there weren’t a whole lot of trees us kids could climb. There were the huge pines – unscalable giants with thick fissured bark, their lowest limbs twenty feet or more above the ground. There were the scrub oaks – thin, twisted things, thin barked, no bigger around than a child’s arm, with branches as thin as your fingers. They were terrible things to try to climb; the branches poked out in crooks and angles, and they were more like trying to climb a bristling bush than a true tree. And there were the younger pines, most no bigger around than a child’s leg, most of them smaller, bristling with soft green needles and small pine cones, which us kids would sometimes throw at each other.

The young pines – those were fun to climb, but they wouldn’t support your weight, not even the weight of the young child I was then. However, we made a game with them – elevator operator – in which you would climb as high as you could go, and then leaning out and hanging by both hands, let the pine slowly bend over like a gentle parent to drop you back onto the land. They were only good for three or four of those sort of trips – rides, actually – before the bend would become permanent for the remainder of the day, and you would have to move on to another one if you wanted to continue playing on them.

Finally there was the most precious tree of all – or at least it was precious to me, and if I could go back in time and transplant it, it would be growing in my yard right now.

It was the hall tree, and it grew in our backyard, in the far back right hand corner. Starting with a single thick trunk, it quickly divided in two, forming a sharply curved vee thrusting into the air. The left hand side of the vee, while not unclimbable, was difficult enough that I tended to ignore it. No, it was the right hand side of that split trunk which held my interest through all those years between eight and eleven, for it was easy to scale, and up high it split, and split again, forming a comfortable crotch to sit in. I would climb that tree, pushing aside the small leaves, until I’d reach that place, and setting back, sit down, my back cradled by the limb, my feet sprawled across its comfortable lap, while the wind whispered through the fluttering green leaves around me.

From there I could see out across the land; a beautiful land from up there. Down across the pasture to the chicken farmer’s house; out across the nodding cove of trees which held the haunted house; up over the yard, almost into the front yard – it was a wonderful place for me, and I would spend hours in that tree, transported to faraway places in my imagination. Sometimes it was a rocket, and I was at its controls; sometimes an airplane lofting me over the land. But mostly it was a place of peace and serenity, my fortress of solitude and contentment.

I remember I’d sit in that tree, comfortable, no need to hang on or balance myself, and gaze across the field at the chicken farmer’s house. In my earliest days I imagined it was my grandmother down there, that white clothed figure moving among the gardens and vegetables. Often I’d wave and call out to her, “Hey grandma! Hey!” But my real grandmother lived over a thousand miles away, so I guess it was my way of bringing her closer, if only through my imagination. But mostly I would just sit, watching the clouds move across a pale blue sky, the leaves rustling in the wind. It was one of the few places I could escape from the hurly-burly bustle of childhood, and sink into the peace of my mind; away from my friends, out of my mom’s eye – me, the tree, and the endless horizon.

I have never forgotten those moments of peace. I have never forgotten the feel of the breeze; the soft whispering of the leaves around me. The rough bark, pressed against my back. There weren’t a lot of peaceful places and moments when I was a child, but that old hall tree – in its limbs I found what I needed, albeit just a little bit; for in its comforting embrace, I could find peace.

And that was something I needed.