The Gathering Tree

Some stories don’t come easily. This is one of those. 

North of here, beyond the five points, beyond the storms end, a solitary tree once grew in a wayside field. It sprouted long before the first settlers wagon blazed nearby and lived for more than the lifetime of a man. 

Time slipped on countless rings as its purpose grew with each seasons life. Memories, barely a whisper now, speak of how it was first known as a landmark, a place to gather your bearings and to align your course of travel. 

A little louder they reverently tell of how it became a family tree. When the Olmsteads built nearby, the lone tree finally stood aloof no more. Starting with their children it became one of the family. A playmate, a confidant, a listener, a wise companion in times of trouble, a celebrant of the happy times as well as a comforter of the sad. A family tree. 

This is where Noah learned about the mysteries of the power of gravity, where Andrea found the courage to accept a date she never wanted. Where David and Steven became friends and also helplessly watched each other drift apart towards opposite landings. Hearts were filled with sadness here and comforted when they found an indescribable love. The kind that beckons you to want to fall in love all over again just because you love that feeling and cannot get enough of it.  

People were not the only things that found their way to it’s influential shadow. An occasional fox was known to hold up there from time to time. More predictable though were the birds that you could hear singing their praises of the evenings accommodation on warm summer nights after a long day of gathering for their families.

For many in the community this Gathering Tree collected more than just birds passing through. It collected some of the deepest feelings known to man. Strong emotions whose power ran deeper than the river in the nearby canyon during a high spring runoff. Strong enough to shape, create and even to destroy.

Like a light house of leaf and wood it once beckoned to a broken heart whose owner was about to crash unknowing in darkness with the pain of rejection upon the jagged rocks of reality we call life. 

Kerry, who just moments before was engaged, with all of the hopes and dreams of a bride to be, abruptly found herself on a rather precarious section of life’s path. One she never even dreamed had existed. Not just alone, but rejected. Discarded like last years Christmas catalog once the season was done. Her life was suddenly transformed from what she felt would be like an endless summer to a stark, barren season, dripping in cold shadows, with just a few devastating words spoken by another. Not much else was audible to her after that. Stable no more, her world swirled and swayed as she made her way to the only place where she felt comfort in the past when times were drifting from where she wanted to land.

Anger ripped through her soul. Question after question rattled her fragile emotions and made them raw with the repetition. Accusations from inside shouted out in tears that spread bitterness downward as they flowed. The peace and comfort the Tree had offered so many times in the past went unacknowledged, as if it never existed. But everyone knew from experience that it had been there. The Gathering Tree had been known as a place that gathered people and provided them with refuge and respite from the storms in their lives. Fire now ate away inside of her, uncontrolled and fanned by the blackness of an unpredictable, bitter pride. Someone had to pay and pay dearly for this and it certainly was not going to be her.

After years of pouring out her heart to the Gathering Tree in notes secreted within its trunk, Kerry now felt the bitterness of betrayal. Her most intimate feelings for every man she had ever dated, her thoughts and feelings for their future together, the evidence of practicing writing his last name next to her first name, her naming of unborn children and imaging who they would become now mocked her in opposition to the comfort it once offered when she placed them in a secret place within the tree.

In time Kerry was able to talk again to the Gathering Tree. The scars that memorialized the hardest day she had ever experienced in her life were shared. It listened. It swayed with the remembrance of her pain as she retold it time and again. It groaned deep within that it could not wrap its branches around her and offer a comfort that would ease her pain and allow her the hope of a possibility for healing her markless scars.

Once again she turned to writing as she had done in the past when she wrote to create the future of her dreams. But this time it was something different. This time she vividly painted the ugly emotions and feelings  that consumed her for the wrong that Andrew had done to her. Anger guided the pen as ink flowed in place of blood; one letter, one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. Each night they were deposited within the tree before she wandered off hoping with each step to be separated from what angered her. But instead she went home to another anguished and toss-filled nights sleep. Each morning there was little change. Unseen hands held tightly. Their grip was unmistakable in the pain it caused. A court-less judgement had been pronounced. Now the sentence, the punishment was being carried out. No sight of parole was on the horizon. No early release for good behavior. Even she could feel the fibers of the rope scraping and flexing around a neck she believed was not her own.

One by one those that had in the past been drawn to the Gathering Tree stopped coming. Birds avoided seeking safety in its leaves and branches. The air surrounding it felt stagnant, almost as if it were dying slowly. A feeling of suffocation and panic left you searching for something that hidden from recognition. 

When its’ leaves fell that fall there was an unspoken finality to it all. Not the pretty, bright and vibrant colors of falls past. Brown, dried and lifeless they dropped one by one and then in groups like soldiers upon a battlefield. Something from within had slowly eaten away at the generosity of this once noble Tree and now there was little left but the skeleton of a tree that had comforted so many in its time. It had listened and watched over its family, and now it had given its life in an attempt to heal one of its own from her heartache, her sorrow, her anger. And now without a second thought Kerry had unwittingly taken the life of the Gathering Tree. The entire community family morned when the last leaf bravely let go. 

“How could such a vibrant, life giving tree have lost such an abundant life?” Accusations were hurled like mud at a barnyard fight. No one came out clean. No one does in times like those. It’s like a sign of guilt. Lines were drawn, sides were taken. The very fabric of what was once one family, a community began to be torn apart by the very members that had made up its creation. Mass suicide. . .  for they were not just killing a family, they were killing themselves. Not even Kerry realized at the time the true nature of the passing of this giant.

Spring came as it always did, full of anticipation for new life and new growth as the world of plants, shrubs and trees began to awaken from their wintery slumber. All except for one. One was gone. One that had been the glue that held this family together. The literal branch upon which so many had sprouted, been nourished and grown to maturity. A lifeless silence told you what you already knew. It was gone and no amount of wishing would be able to restore its life. 

One night, long after the mud had dried and the dust settled, while the silence still marked the borders of the ground that outlined the final resting place of the Gathering Tree, a great storm descended. A storm so violent that it seemed as if nature itself had added its voice to those that echoed the regret and loss of this valued and loving member of their community. Never had a storm been known to shake entire homes like the thunder of this one. Never had everyone in this community unknowingly been gathered together as one is desperate prayer for relief, huddled in their secret places, as they did that night.

Morning came and the people were so groggy from over drinking their fear and consuming their anxiety that they had a hard time rising to witness the damage that had come with the storm from the previous night. But one by one they arose and with trepidation they ventured out to sift through the damage. Gone was the windmill that had labored since the start of the town to provide clean drinking water. Gone were portions of roofing, limbs of trees. Scattered and missing were countless possessions they had cherished and gathered through hard work and inheritances. The things that they had grown to believe were essential were no more and now the things that really gave life became their gold. Cooperation, love, respect, kind words, a warm handshake, a gentle hug, a shoulder to cry upon, the hand of another to wipe away your tears. Community. Family with all the warts, gray hair and wrinkles that it entails. They still had that.

A longing for comfort pulled gently at the heart strings of each of them and led them back to the barren Gathering Tree. Sorrow replaced the anger of the past. Remembrances filled one heart and then the next as they moved among the community that had once again, through adversity, become a family. As each was filled, their eyes were guided to the remains, the last remains of the tree. Buried inside its trunk, now exposed to the light for all to see were countless blackened, mildew crusted pieces of paper. Each heart was pricked with a sight that connected them to their past. The past when each of them had placed letters, notes and remembrances within this tree as messages to a wise being that they believed looked over them and their families. 

With Kerry though it was more than a prick. It was the jarring loose of her heart closely followed by a terrifying free fall to the stony ground before being instantly snapped back into place rather abruptly. But before she could finish the guilt filled questions, rapid in succession as they rushed to flood her mind,  the sounds of trickling water divinely redirected her thoughts from self accusations to discovery and a search for its source. 

Young Jackson was given credit for locating the birthplace of the sound. A source that would ultimately save this family community. A source that would help it to heal, a source that would help nourish and bring the promise of life back to a broken, shattered and scattered family. Sweet, life giving spring water now flowed from the stump of the Gathering Tree. One last gift to a struggling family that it had come to love as they grew together. One last gift for a family it tried with every fiber it possessed to help heal. Now it gave them a choice and a chance. A choice for change, a chance to save life and to build something new to replace what had been destroyed.

Our words are very precious and also very powerful. Their placement and use must be taken with care.  Whether we leave these with another as spoken words, a text message, a social posting, an email, a letter or note hidden deep within a tree or a thought left to wander our unguarded imagination, we must take care. Anger, if left to burn can destroy from within. The punishment we think we are dishing out in retaliation for our pain does not cause healing for anyone. It causes the destruction of relationships not just between the giver and receiver but also among others. There is a cost far beyond our own that is paid when hearts are hard and spirits are unforgiving.

But there is hope. The Giving Tree that listened, comforted and was there for you did not die in vain. It brought water. Life giving water. Water to wash away the mistakes of the past. Water to cleanse us and purify us. Water to help us grow again. Water to calm our hearts and literally refresh our souls. 

Don’t make the mistake of walking away from what you might feel is something beyond repair. With this water, life can return to even the driest desert. But you have to reach out and take the cup and bring it to your lips. Remember what you have been given and allow its healing power to be accepted into your life. You cannot do this alone and you do not have to if you don’t want to.  So drink in the gift He has given you.

8 thoughts on “The Gathering Tree

  1. I so love trees. This story reminds me of a poem I wrote about a tree. It isn’t posted on my blog..so I’ll share it with you here. Love this..love trees. They are living breathing parts of our families.

    The Tree

    The tree where first we met
    shaded us as I fell into your arms
    giddy and spent, after you chased me
    round it till I could run no more.
    Squeals and laughter brought the
    envy of onlookers as they spied our
    perfect, private, public moment
    tussling in the leaves…

    All the world’s a stage.

    Our tree in spring was vibrant green
    and burgeoning with promise as we
    picnic’d beneath it discussing all
    our hopes, plans and dreams.
    We happily languished in the
    euphoria that is new love.

    The tree, our tree, is barren now…
    Under wet gray skies I cling to it
    for support, lest I collapse into a pile
    as you walk away with the pieces of my heart.
    Broken and hollow… I delicately trace
    our initials once carved with enthusiasm
    into the bark with all the others.

    It occurs to me how many love stories
    this tree must have seen play out…
    I can only hope none of them have
    ended as tragically as ours.

    © 11/26/2013
    Dani Heart

    Liked by 1 person

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