I came around the turn like I always do, having just descended the shaded steps from the tallest point in the park, and I was feeling so good, I was covered in sweat and smiling and glad to be at my little secret spot in the park, a wooded path that’s tucked away and rarely frequented by most park goers, just other runners and bird watchers, old men walking their dogs, couples holding hands, but usually no one, just me, and the path, and all that beautiful nature in this cement city, and this one tree, this one glorious tree with a split trunk, one length of it running straight up to the sky, the other on a slant, leaning over the path, as if to provide this place with a monumental arch, a purposeful sharing of its shade, and for me, a friendly hello, a welcome to its solitude and strength and its beauty. Except on this day, August 26, 2006, this one special tree was no longer there.
No, no, no NO!
I stopped cold and started making calculations — yes, I am where I think I am, this is the path, and I just turned the corner and from where I am standing right now the tree should be there, right there, right in front of me. It should be there, and it is not.
Saw dust splotches on the path. One half of the tree’s trunk lying there, as if it had been run down and just left on the side of a desolate road. All those years in the wind, all those stars and the nights, all those leaves come and gone and falling all around, sun beating, beating, beating down, rain drops slipping on the green, the swaying of the branches, and now, just gone, cut down.
Gray day, on the verge of a rain, an unseasonably cool breeze for this August day rustling the branches all around and striking a bitter chill along my sweat drenched backside. I stood there and held on to the disbelief — better to not believe then to let it sink in. But it does sink in and I started running again, to shake it off, to wrap my head around it, to get away from the tree that was looming so large but was no longer there.
There are the fixtures in our life, and they help connect the dots of who we are, help us remember, show us how to forget, get us to bend over and pick up the pieces, help us close our eyes at night and finally, finally, at last, fall asleep.
Running is a way to keep the pounds off my mid-riff, to keep me from screaming because the TV volume is up too loud or some other stupid thing that I shouldn’t be losing my temper over, to keep my blood pressure down, to do some thinking or to do no thinking at all, to help clear my mind, to be alone, to move forward, faster and faster and faster. And throughout and within all of the running, that tree was my fixture: to reach the tree, to see the tree, to think back on it as I walked into my apartment, winded, soar and soaked in sweat, but smiling down to my core.
Fixtures can be monuments in the here and now, but they can also be fleeting memories, things from our past that are gone forever. It’s hard to see them transition from one to the other. There is sadness and there is shock, and anger. In the long run, though, I think what makes these fixtures important to us, what makes them truly meaningful, is knowing deep down that this transition will happen. Once it does happen, and the immediate emotions run their course, the fixture’s roots have been laid into the core of who you were, who you were, and who you will become.
So I will keep running, to the tree. To the tree. I’ll keep running to the tree.