A Tale from Paris...IA.
I can remember a time when I was different, a time long before who I am now. I lived on an acreage near a river called the Wapsipinicon. The Wapsipinicon winds through mostly wooded area in northeastern Iowa and holds a flat murky tint from years of field run off and sheer lack of attention. The timber around this river reeks of a savage en-ergy, unlike the manicured woods of state parks, the only paths that navigate this world are those of wild animals. On summer days I would run rampant through the woods sur-rounding the river on timeless adventures. In the timber, trees erupted from the ground fighting for space among thick vines and irksome bunches of dense shrubbery patched the green woodland floor. During these escapades, in the jungles of northeastern Iowa, my imagination echoed the essence of the untamed landscape. Summer days blended together into a great tapestry of a certain youthful fire.
One day, donning my usual ripped jean shorts over bloodied legs, I stumbled upon our junk-yard. The previous owners of our estate had dumped numerous cars that laid half submerged in the moss covered ground. Now, these aged, once proud automobiles looked like skeletons, lacking an extras or embellishments: only the harsh metal frames remained. In the bottom of this junky ravine, stood one tree that was separate from the great canopy. It stood tall. It saw the time when the cars in the junk-yard were not dead; but now, like the cars, it was slipping into a certain death.
A few days later my cousin Sean and I stumbled upon this tree again. Sean rushed to the bottom of the ravine, prancing down a moss clad hill, he stopped beneath the tree. It dwarfed his lanky frame, looming as a natural relic. I peered at Sean through a screen of humidity and mosquitos; through the canopy fragmented light spotlighted the area around him. When I got to the bottom of the slope, near him and tree, he told me of plans to knock the dying tree down.
We rushed to my father’s machine shed and found the most vicious looking tools: large pruning sheers, a double edged axe rusty from years of loyal service, a hammer with a fiberglass handle, a cattle prod, a circular saw blade with gleaming teeth around its edge, a crowbar, random knives, sharp pokers, a heavy mallet, and an out of com-mission ‘Green-Machine’ HMC chainsaw covered in grease. We would help this tree escape the final stages of its now humiliating life.
As our small arms swung mighty tools, large chunks of rotten tree flew into the air like debris after a mortar strikes. We would back away from the base of the tree and charge with fierce intentions, jumping with an axe or hammer above our head we would slam the sharp edge deep into the dying flesh of this natural beast. On one particular attack, Sean gripped the steal handle of the crowbar, I backed away from my spot on the tree and watched the crowbar hit the rotting flesh of our tree; the contact of the hard metal upon the tree erupted with an explosion of tree scrap.
I looked at Sean and asked, “Do you think it’ll fall?” He stopped his hacking and wiped some sweat from his dirty face.
“Nah, not today.”
And he was right, for this was a big tree and our efforts so far had hardly effected its large woody circumference. Regardless, Sean and I continued to destroy the old monument until the hot sun finally began to disintegrate behind the tree studded hori-zon; like sand through a wire sifter. It was time for dinner.
Dinner that night was like any other June evening at my parent’s home, we sat around our dining-room table, a large oak one that my father hand crafted, and the loud frogs outside meshed with the soft clinking of forks on plates.
“So what did you boys do this afternoon?” My mother peered over the table looking at Sean and myself.
“Hacked at an old tree.”
My father took the half empty milk jug sitting just in front of him on the table and put it on the ground next to his feet. His blues eyes looked at my blue eyes, “With what?”
“Just a few tools.”
He forked a bit of roast beef and looked up from his plate,“Make sure you boys put them back when you are done, I don’t want anything left out in the timber.” I looked back at my father for a moment and eyed his dirty finger clenched around his full glass of milk. I had nothing to say.
“I know Dad.” I took at long drink of my milk, and stared at my reflection in the bot-tom of the glass, as I put the glass back down on the table I set half of it on the edge of my plate. The milk toppled over and cold white liquid spread out across the table.
That night Sean and I laid on the floor in the unfinished basement. Our family dog, Spangle, ran about the night, barking and chasing all sorts of wild demons, I could only imagine the chthonic things that our mighty guard dog kept at bay. She trotted beneath the half-hacked tree chasing shadowy raccoons and opossums that she only could smell. Sometimes, the morning after Spangle barked all night her tags from her collar would be missing. I always told my mom that she ventured down to the river to play wild games of dog poker, and she lost. I laid on my back, “Sean you up?”
“Are we going back out to the tree tomorrow?”
“Yeah, I think we should try and knock it down.”
“Lets get up really early and work all day, its the only way it will fall.” I rolled over on my side and looked at the wall.
At 6:30 my eyes shot open to the sound of my father walking down the set of creak-ing stairs, it was a Tuesday and I heard his daily routine begin. He pulled on some cut off jean shorts, a stained Francois Construction shirt, and socks that went half way up his shins. He sat on a small chair and then laced up his shoes, then he grabbed his lunch cooler and went back up the creaking stairs. I wouldn’t see him until seven. I am sure once my Dad walked the stairs up out of sight that morning it was like any other. He greeted my Mother who was frying two eggs, and poured himself a glass of orange juice. After breakfast he walked out the door, down the porch steps and into his teal green truck. That was when I heard him drive down our long lane.
“Sean wake up.”
It was just after noon and Sean and I were still hacking at the old tree, the sun beat down upon our shirtless bodies through the gaps in the thick canopy, dirt stuck to my sweat covered back. Sean and I each hacked on opposite sides of the tree, we didn’t talk much. Between my blows upon the tree, mosquitos would violently buzz near my ear causing me to twitch, my hands were rubbed raw from the wooden handle of the axe and when my fingers weren’t gripped around the handle they hurt. Small spears of wood attacked my eyes and my arms were becoming rapidly fatigued. Hair matted and face dirty, Sean sat hunched on a stump, he breathed hard and I could see the rapid pulsing of his heart through his thin skin. Exhaustedly Sean panted; “I don’t think we are going to get ‘er down.”
I dropped my axe and examined the tree. The thick roots shot into the moss green grass three feet from the bottom of the trunk. Around the base of the tree a large mess from our tools littered the ground; a light colored dust mixed the pale pulp of soft chunks of tree. The bark was falling off in large thick pieces, and if a piece was pulled off, black ants scattered out of sight. A quarter of the way up the massive trunk was where our work was aimed, the freshly exposed interior glowed with a sharp creamy contrast to the dark rotting exterior. Our efforts had reduced this part of the trunk by a considerable amount, the bulk of the tree appeared to be balancing on a small freshly hacked spin-dle. Up from that spot, the trunk divided into large bony branches that ached for the sky, there were few leaves on its branches despite the thousands that other branches donned. “I bet the next thunderstorm will knock it down.” I sat next to Sean, my body wrung ragged.
Years later, after my first semester of college I went out through the timber. I gingerly stepped down the snow covered hill leading to the ravine of the old tree. In the valley below little islands of snow homed the trails of deer, squirrels, and crows. The junky old cars now emerged from the ground like headstones, looking more weathered than be-fore. The half imagined aura my old sanctuary once held stood diminished by the harsh winter. I noticed an old aerosol can tag on the dirty hood of a car that read: ‘kyle!’. Fur-ther down the gully I spotted a tree lying flat on the ground. On one end a large ball of snapped roots rested dead, ripped from the ground by one ruthless wind. About a quar-ter of the way up the trunk the thin spindle, Sean and I hacked a decade before, re-mained intact. Next to the fallen beast, a rusted, forgotten crowbar sat in the cold snow.
Sir Kyle D. François