The old oak
The old tree looked tired with its gnarled limbs, heavy with fading leaves, stretched out toward the setting sun. The only visitors during the day was a pair of squabbling, noisy sparrows that kept up an infernal, unrelenting chirp, chirp, chirp until they eventually grew tired or settled whatever it was they were arguing about.
A sudden gust of wind rustled its leaves, a harbinger of the approaching fall and winter, which were not its favourite seasons. Sometimes, the fall could be enchanting, especially when the squirrels came in seemingly endless numbers to collect acorns fallen from its branches and birds stopped by to overnight on their journey to warmer climates, away from the impending winter.
An old man holding a young by his hand boy came walking down the path and sat down on the bench below the ancient oak. The man took a pipe out of his pocket, filled it with tobacco and lit it. The bluish smoke drifted on the air, wafting a pleasant aroma around the tree. “I love sitting here” he said. “When I was your age, my grandfather would take me here, just as I took you here today and the Oak tree was just as big then as it is now”. “It is many hundreds of years old and if only it could speak of all the things it has seen and experienced, what stories it could tell.”
The boy looked inquiringly at his grandfather’s face. “But trees can’t talk”, he said, “They are just things that grow and make leaves and little nuts.
“Those little nuts are called acorns. The squirrels love to eat them and when I was young, the farmers would let their pigs run in the woods and feed on them, but don’t think that trees can’t talk. All living things can speak; you just have to listen carefully, for they have their own special way of talking. If you put your hand on the tree, it will feel it and perhaps, if you touch your ear to its trunk, you will hear its voice.
The boy looked at the massive trunk of the tree, covered with carved initials, hearts and even some crosses.
“Why do people carve letters and things on trees grandfather?” he asked.
“Well”, he replied, “some do it just to show that they have been here at the tree and others to leave a message, such as the initials of two people in love, carved inside a heart.”
“Did you ever carve your name or initials on the tree?”
“No”, he said, “but your father did.”
“Show them to me” said the boy eagerly. “Where are they? I want to see them.”
“I don’t remember, but why don’t you look around on the bark of the tree. Look for the initials KCFL. They should still be there, even though your father carved them when he was a little older than you. That would be more than thirty years ago.”
The boy slowly moved around the tree, looking up and down its trunk, but after some time, he had not found it.
“I can’t see it”, said the boy. “I’ve looked all over the bark.”
“Well, perhaps you need to look a little higher up”, said the old man. “Perhaps he stood on the bench when he carved it.”
The boy jumped up on the bench and began to look higher up the tree trunk.
“Oh, there it is! I see it! He shouted eagerly. “Look up there” he said, “Can you see the letters?”
“Yes, I see them now. They look a bit faded, but that’s your dad’s initials all right. I didn’t see him carve them, for he had come up here by himself, but he told me he had done so.”
“I can tell dad that I found them when I get back, but I don’t want to go home yet, said the boy.”
“How do I listen to what the old tree is saying, he asked his grandfather?”
“Well”, he said, “you will have to put your ear to the trunk of the tree and hold a hand over your other ear and then listen very carefully, for old trees speak very softly”
The boy did as he was told and appeared to be listening intensely for several minutes, without moving his head or his body.
“Grandfather, all I can hear is some small cracking sounds and something like a hum, – you know, kind of like the sound a bee makes when it flies around the flowers in your garden, but I didn’t hear it speak to me.”
“Well,” said the grandfather, “I didn’t say that you would understand what it says. It speaks in its own language, but the humming sound is all the leaves talking to each other about the wind that plays with them and the sun that smiles on them. The cracking sound is the oak tree telling you that it is very old and its limbs are frail and tired.”
A man walked by the bench with his dog on a leash. He nodded to the grandfather and bid good afternoon. The grandfather returned the greeting, and the boy went over to pet the dog.
A sense of serenity surrounded the little forest. The afternoon was waning and looking at his grandson, he tried to remember something from when he had been the same age, but memories from that time had dimmed over the years. He stood up, looked at the old oak tree and felt sad when he thought that the tree was as old in oak tree years as he was in human years. He knew he had few years left in which to enjoy the pleasure of moments like this, but couldn’t help but wonder if the old oak tree would outlive him.
Kenny Beechmount,–written in memory of my grandfather who often took me for a walk to the little forest with the old oak tree. The oak tree is gone and my grandfather passed away at the age of 93, in 1968. The memory of both him and the old oak tree lives on in my soul.