This past Monday morning, Halee, my brother’s wife and one of my truest friends on earth, brought me with her two boys to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. We explored everything slowly and had such fun before a super refreshing and kind of fancy lunch.
I rate fanciness by the smallness of an espresso cup, and I’m telling you that “The Blue Talon,” a French bistro, provided a thimble. But the food was plentiful and delicious!
One memory from the day will forever stand out. It was this magnificent old tree in the middle of the village.
We were all walking toward the restaurant area when we spotted it, and looking back the day would not have been the same without this small excursion.
Greg, soon to be a second grader, was all in when I suggested we climb it.
It was one of those ancient trees, undamaged by ice storms, several stories high and just as broad. A dense, shady, domed paradise. Was it maple, I think? Not oak. Something else. It boasted thick, sprawling branches as substantial as tree trunks themselves, the kind that reach out several yards away to touch the earth then curve back up and out again, elastic and strong. The actual trunk of this specimen was downright beastly. As big in diameter as a freight elevator. I easily imagined a spiral staircase carved within the wood, secret and hidden. Lit by elves with magical glowing rocks, instead of candles, leading to a subterranean apothecary and library.
The tree had both masculine and feminine qualities. I felt both vibrating, alternately, as we played. It was everything you want an old tree to be.
A braided steel cord ran up from the ground, along the smooth but deeply textured bark, up toward the sky. The cord had popped free here and there from its spiked tethers and eventually disappeared into the leafy canopy. We said it was a live electrical wire and took turns pretending to shock-zap each other with its nearness.
Okay, I admit I thought it was a live wire and sweated in my armpits a little when my calf accidentally touched it.
As we climbed and scooted around, the conversation flowed freely.
At one point Greg unknowingly touched on one of my most favorite philosophical topics, fear.
“Babies don’t have any fear.” His little brother, Connor, played contentedly on ground level with his Mom.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because they don’t know anything yet,” Greg answered, shrugging his tiny shoulders and wiggling his close-cut, bright red hair. Freckles shining in the shade.
“Like, what can happen?” We had been trading commentary about which branches were the safest route, how a fall to the ground might feel, why I hated busting out my teeth, etcetera. I was in a full body, wrap-around, chimpanzee grip on my chosen branch.
“Right, all they know is their Mom and Dad and stuff.” Greg was walking upright like a kid from the Swiss Family Robinson, counting black ants as they raced around his sneakers.
“So maybe that’s why grown-ups worry so much? Because they know what might happen?” I was not too subtle about defending my dental catastrophe concerns. My fears.
“Maybe, but still I’m not scared,” Greg said this with absolute lightness, and he scrambled a little further away.
A few strangers were passing by beneath us. We heard one man say to another, that there were signs posted not to sit on the tree. Soon Halee figured out it was a small deception by that man meant to keep the second man from violently bouncing the lowest branches. Or maybe to keep his own kids from climbing the tree, because they definitely saw us. There were no posted warnings, but the whole scene played really nicely into our exchange about fear and adulthood.
And persuasion, using both truth and untruth.
Greg observed that while adults may have fears, it’s up to kids to convince them otherwise. Kids are there to persuade adults, in his words. Just as he was managing to persuade me to keep climbing.
This is where I confess that while it was originally my bright idea to climb the tree, one of my very favorite things to do in life, eventually I needed motivation. Mostly because after kicking off my wedge sandals I found the bark to feel much smoother than expected and my bare feet had trouble gripping. Plus, you know, my teeth you guys. The burden fell on my young nephew to keep me from giving up. Once when I nearly disembarked (ha! Get it?) near the trunk, he persuaded me to stay in the leaves with him and retrace the long limb we had just traversed, exiting instead the long way down. He said it would be more fun. He used truth to persuade me, unlike the man had done, and he celebrated this fact.
Also. Let me point out that from the get-go I fully expected Halee to keep our adventure in check. I thought she would slow the roll if needed, and at some point, I was kind of counting on that for personal reasons.
But she didn’t. Apparently, I was the only fearful adult that day. She just stood there on terra firma, cheering us on, encouraging further exploration and assuring us of how manageable the jump would be should we feel the urge. Once, she even offered her slender shoulders when I hesitated at the 8-foot drop.
Thanks, Halee. (haha!)
And thank you, Greg! I am so glad we explored that beautiful tree together and I feel enlightened by your young mind’s view of fear, persuasion, trust, and fun. I love you. Meet me on the trampoline anytime, too.
Your Slightly Nervous but Fun Loving Aunt Marie
Epilogue: Since this day, my whole family visited Colonial Williamsburg, and rumor has it that three generations of tree-climbing Dunaways made a memory together in those gorgeous, substantial branches. I missed this fun but enjoyed the photos immensely. Life is good. Trees make it better.