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The Oak Tree

12 Jun

The Oak Tree

All of it’s branches reach out.  Stretching skyward, slender or stout, shortened, truncated by man, or extending far from the center, those branches leafed out in June, shade the ground. Within green shaded air, lightly sighing leaf sounds compete with the twitter of  birds who fight for space on the bird feeders placed under the canopy. That tree has anchored the place since 200 years before the birth of my mother. Now, cracks are showing in the bark. New ones, that were not there even a couple of weeks ago. The end is near. The giant oak is completely hollow, though huge and gnarly, it is gently dying. The root structure is gone to the east and south east. Will it last another 3 weeks? NOT sure.

What a legacy. Power in a tree. Magnificent, majestic, mighty this tree calls alliteration to mind, even though trite, the fit is there. There are few like it. And none that grace the yard of a private home in the middle of the capital of the United States of America. This huge, stolid trunk is weakening from the inside. Though we who love it want to believe it will outlive us, we can see that it is almost gone into legend. Though it still stands, reaching to the sky and thick with leaves, the underpinnings of the tree are gone. Where once roots burrowed under the ground and interfered with growing grass, the carpet is thick and green, with fast growing grass.

Overlooking my childhood that Oak Tree stood sentinel. Glancing at it sideways, it was just “there”. Shading our front yard in hot Washington DC summers, we were grateful for the coolness beneath those spreading arms.  Yet, unconsciously the presence as a constant gave stability to my growing years until we left to live in Europe.  Then I missed it.  Then we had a smooth grass circle in front of the Embassy and it seemed naked. I longed for the thick trunk and overreaching green leafed canopy, the acorns in the fall, the bare branches silhouetted  against the winter sky, the spring tassels that preceded the early leafing out.

I loved that tree. We all loved it and we all still do. It frightens us to imagine the space without it. How strange that would/ will be. How unsettling and unusually bright. The entire house would change for the worse, or at least for a very different aspect. But life goes on.  The land will still be there when the tree is gone. Someone will tear down the house once called “Underoak” and build something made of steel and glass. An office building? An embassy? An addition to the American University campus? Will I live to see this change?

Are we green yet? What exactly does that mean?

6 Apr

I loved this article. Too bad it is anonymous. The author writes of a time during which I grew up. She points out that life itself was “green” at that time.

When a thunder storm was coming (we knew because we heard the thunder in the distance, not because of weather alerts on TV) I was sent inside to help shut all the windows. The windows were all wide open because we did not have air conditioning. We cooled our homes with breezes from the outdoors.

My parent slept outside in the yard in canvas hammocks, on very hot summer nights. Washington DC was hot and humid. They used to close down the government sometimes due to heat just as they might for a blizzard these days. It was fun for us children though, we played outside till dark. We tooks drinks of water from hose to cool off. We waited for the Good Humor man to arrive in his truck with it’s distinctive bell. That is how we got a treat. A frozen ice cream bar tasted so good on a hot evening. We did not have a freezer.

Many of my friends only had one telephone in the house. It was usually in the front hall on a telephone table or else hanging on the wall. In rural areas many people shared phone lines and had a specific ring on the “party line”.

There were NO super stores. Markets had more real food (unprocessed) than packaged. There were many different types of flour and the variety would surprise most modern women. In fact I can remember being taken to the poultry store which was more like outdoor sheds and pens. This was at a corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Van Ness Street in Washington DC where office buildings have been built years ago. At that time we went to buy a chicken or two and picked the ones we wanted out of a cage. The owners would kill them and pluck them and we would come pick them up later.

Working people often wore the same clothes day after day. They had a Sunday outfit that they only wore on Sunday. Men who were still “old fashioned” wore the same shirt but changed the collars. We were lucky because our mother loved clothes and made sure we had many. Some mothers made their daughters clothes, and all of them knew how to sew. (even mine who never made a dress in her life)

We had no television and I do not remember listening to the radio during the day time. We played games when were free of school or chores. These games usually were played in our imaginations more than with real “props”. We used imagination all the time. We had amazing power to be whatever we imagined. We had a lot of real fun. Not so much thrills, just steady fun generally, but we could take chances that made us conquer our fears too. We climbed trees. Does anyone do this any more? We swam in ponds or “swimming holes” in a stream. We caught little animals, we picked flowers and we collected things like unusual looking rocks or shells. We made forts or “bowers” and decorated them with things brought from the house or with imaginary things made from branches or leaves or other things we picked up and transformed with our minds.

Childhood for many of us was truly “childhood”. We did not hear violent words spoken. We saw very few violent images and only as a photograph, not in moving living color as children do now. We did not have constant fear mongering going on in our living rooms or kitchens via Television. It would have been unimaginable then. The things that have become normal faire would have been banned by censors. Sex remained a mystery except for mating of animals which we saw on occassion.

We went to church and Sunday School. Our parents were not fundamentalists. They just went to church because it was the thing one did on Sunday. There friends were all there and so were ours. All the stores were closed. You could not get food at a market or items of any kind on Sunday. There were a few drug stores where you could buy medicine. That was all. There really was such a thing as a day of rest. People did relax on Sunday and though there might be some lawn mowing or fancy cooking it was a quiet day. For us it meant a big Sunday Dinner soon after we came back from church. It was always the same. Fried chicken that really tasted like chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, petitte pois (baby green peas out of a can) or green beans (fresh) and often pop-overs with lots of butter. Coffee ice cream for desert with the offer of chocolate syrup if we wanted to add that.

My goodness, that sounds delicious. Memories of that time are fun because each one brings another along with it. I could write a book about this….but I won’t because I am actually a forward looking person. I love technology and all the advances we have made in so many ways. It is just sort of fun…and maybe really important to look back and see where we have come from and be aware of whom we have become.