Sometimes in our lives, we need a certainty to tie our feelings to. Mine is a massive live oak on a rocky hill at the far backside of our place. When Tom brought me to Erath County to see the farm he’d used his loan from the G.I. Bill to purchase, we climbed up that hill together. The big oak stood at the very top of a hill that rose gently from the forest of mesquite, post oak, and scrubby cedar bushes that had been planted by nature. The oak was outstanding, not because of its height, but because of its circumference. We held hands and embraced the rough trunk, giving it a sorta big hug and then laughed at the silly emotion we both felt because we loved this land so much and were so happy.
As the ‘50’s passed and our dairy got going, the children were growing and life was fulfilling, we spent many hours in the wooded pasture, fishing and swimming in the big tank, roasting wieners on a wood fire on the dirt dam or maybe just spreading a picnic under the shelter of the “Big Oak”. When Tom bought our very first camper that fit on the bed of our new Ford pickup, we loaded up kids and dogs and drove to the back pasture. We spent a night in the camper parked near the Big Oak. A severe rainstorm came up with lots of thunder and lightning during the night and we woke up to an ear-splitting crash. From the windows inside the camper shell, we watched as lightning lit up the night sky. At daylight we examined the spot where the Tree had been hit. One giant limb had been ripped off and lay on the ground; green leaves still attached. Thick bark pealed off the tree in a wide scar from where the limb had been, all the way to the ground.
When the kids were small, we took their pictures sitting on the lowest limb of our favorite tree and as the years slipped by we took more with them standing on the ground. Once they were grown and married with children of their own, we lined them up and took their pictures standing next to the tree’s big trunk. When our first Great Dane died, we buried him in the brown dirt beneath the tree. He liked to hunt raccoons in the back pasture but a hollow in the tree where that giant limb had been ripped off so long ago, gave the critters refuge and if they beat him to the tree, they were always safe. Kind of like a childhood game of “King’s X”. Life was a big game to Attila anyway so we buried him there beside the “safe spot’ that the Tree gave to wild things.
One of my part-time jobs as a dairy-wife was looking for fresh cows and searching out their offspring. In the early days we pastured our dry cows in the woods pasture at the back of the place so many times I walked from the dairy to the rocky hill and stood in the shelter of the old oak tree to get a better view of the field of grass below. The hill was a great spot to spend a little time looking out across the country. Dead ahead and to the left I could see the Huckabay School building, three miles away; the red and tan sandstone, gleaming in the afternoon sun.
Below me, where the woods pasture thinned and then disappeared and acres of Sudan and later Coastal grew in abundance, was our dairy barn; beyond that, our house. Tom would be collecting the herd for the afternoon milking. I was supposed to be driving in any fresh cows but I always took time to sit by the Tree and do a little resting.
It had been quite awhile since I had been to the back of the place so this week some of my family and I drove the rough road that Tom had once made, to the Tree. The trail is overgrown with brush and grass and sometimes we had to charter a new path because the old one had eroded away but the tree is there. We had to fight our way through weeds that smelled wonderfully like fresh mint and a few briars and scrub cedar to get to it, but there it is, older and still standing. The trunk is maybe twice the circumference it was 58 years ago when I first saw it. It is gnarled and knotted from time and way up there, twelve feet from the ground is that big hole where the limb was ripped off that stormy night we spent in a camper back here.
We were a lot younger then, the tree and me, and time has left its mark on both our faces. It stood here in strength and beauty, long before I was born and will go on living way past the time when I will leave this earth but the years that my family and the tree have shared have been special.