The big fat tree
The storm'd just started, when Wally went to see. He went to the door and stood in the door and looked out. The sky was green with clouds and the air was dry and the rain hadn't started yet, not yet, and the wind was wooshing down the middle of the street. He stood there and looked and he had to look around the base of the front tree to see the street and the trash blowing down there.
He didn't look at the tree, not yet. He looked around the fat Oak. The trunk was 10 feet wide, maybe 10 feet, and he leaned to the side of the doorway to see past it to the street and up around it to the sky and he stood there and waited for the rush of the storm to fall with rain.
He looked up to see the sky and he saw the tree. All the branches were leaning and waving north, away from the coast, and the leaves were stripping away in a rustle rustle and tearing off twigs as they ripped away.
A leaf would flutter, flapping north, would flutter and sound out a sputter of popping and little explosions and then something would catch or snap or something and a leaf would fly away. It would leave the tree and the leaves of the tree and with a rush it would fly out into the air and then it would filter down through the wind to the gound and crash into the rustle bustle of leaves and trash in a scurry scuttle down the street.
Wally watched. The roofs of the houses along the lane left their buildings to fly away in crumpled wads. The little trees came up and over spattering unearthed dirt into the air. A dog went running loosed. A car started skidding left and once it slipped it couldn't stop and it slipped sideways into the corner of the house on the corner and crushed inwards splitering up the edge of the house and bringing the corner down upon itself.
His house lost its roof. His house lost a wall and the windows rattled and shook and broke into a thousand tiny shards spraying into the walls and out into the street. Wole winced. Wole ducked, involuntarily. He looked at the door frame and he stood under the door frame and he looked at the tree in the front.
He'd never really looked at trees. Not really. Not any more than normal. He'd looked at leaves when they colored and fell. He'd looked at acorns when squirrels grabbed them. He'd seen them, he guessed. But this one, this one never moved. The branches waved and the leaves stripped but the trunk stayed stuck in the ground, reaching down into the core of the world and staying solid put. Too strong to sway, too solid to bend, too massive to move.
Then the rains came. The water came down the street and he could hear the roaring. Crashing. Smashing. Gushing up along the road so he could see it coming like a wall waving over garbage cans and cats and caving in the houses and carrying everything all away in a swirl of black and murky gray. He ran. He ran for the tree without thinking about it and he jumped into its arms.
In one rush he made the first limb. In another he moved up to the fork where the two biggest branches met in the middle into the tree that went deep down into the ground. He might have said something, then. This whole time he'd been silent, watching, looking to see. But he might have said something then, said something to God or the storm or the tree. He doesn't remember, though, and with the water and the wind there wasn't any way to hear what he might have said.
He got in the fork, between the two limbs. He straddled it, hid in it with his arms wrapped around the southbound limb of the big old tree and he stayed there for the night. He stayed there for the next day and the water tried to wash away the ground around the tree. The wind took off all the leaves and most of the little limbs and all of the twigs cracked off and fell out and made crashing noises in synchorny with storm and he stayed there, in the tree until a day and a half after the whole thing had blown on washed on swept whistling on by. The whole world was dead, that day, the whole world was swept flat as the floor. All of it was gone except that fat tree and Wole wet and clinging to it.
This is not how Wally tells the story. Sometimes people ask. Sometimes Middle School kids say, hey mister, how old's that tree? Sometimes young mothers go by with skipping babies and they say, that's a beautiful tree. How long has it been there? Sometimes High School botanists will call it a fine specimen and ask him if he knows that this is the only Oak of this sort left along the coast. He doesn't say anything. He's not rude about it or anything but he just smiles and says yes and smiles and waits until they go off along on their way. This is not the story that Wally would say. He doesn't say anything about it excpet once a year.
Once a year, on the memory of the day he came down, Wally walks into his front yard and he puts a ladder up into the breach of the tree. He climbs up to the split between the branches and he sits there. He's old now but he still does this every year. He sits there and he says his story like this:
This tree, he says, is older than me. This tree is as old as God. One day it rained. One day God put down on this place, this old tree, with water and wind and devestations. Everything was killed or washed away. I don't know where it all went but it was never here again. Everything that was here is gone, all except this tree. This tree stood up to God and nature and everything and I hid up in this tree.