Conrad’s Oak

I sat anxiously behind the wheel as I jogged my memory trying to remember whether to make a right or take the left that was seemingly calling out my name. As I sat at the crossroad I decided to go with my gut, I cranked the steering wheel to the left and headed on my way. I could hear the crackle of the rock and dirt from beneath the wheel as I stepped on the gas. This familiar sound filled my mind with memories of my childhood. I could now remember sitting in the passenger’s seat of my father’s old Ford pickup and how the drive seemed longer than it really was. The long dirt road was a good 30 minutes drive from the main highway, but for all I was concerned it could have been somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know what possessed me to come back, I don’t know if it was a long anticipated time of solitude or if it was simply me wanting to be close to my father again. I think the reality of the situation was that it was a little bit of both. It was a month now since I laid my father to rest and it had been years since we hand any sort of meaningful conversation. I rolled up the windows as the dust from the road began to fill up the cab of my truck; I realized that this road hasn’t been traveled on for some time now. Why would it have been? Even as a child I remember that this road only lead to an old barn, a long barbed wire fence with tall sturdy wood posts that held it in place and a tall old oak that stood by itself in a pasture of tall grass. I can still remember being amazed at how vast the oak’s branches were and how they seemed to have stretched out for miles.

I could now see the tall barn off into the distance as I made my way back into the deep countryside. I could see that somehow it managed to stay upright despite nature’s constant years of abuse. As I drove closer my eyes began to well up with tears from the sight of such a beautiful thing. This was my father’s favorite place and it practically seemed that I grew up here. Some of my fondest memories took place at this very spot. As I pulled up to the barn I could see that it was barely standing, I felt that an unexpected sneeze or a prolonged gaze would knock it down. I got out of my pickup and gently shut the door behind me, I was afraid that the sound from the door shutting might cause some sort of strange sequence of events that would inevitably cause the barn to yield to earth’s gravity. As I cautiously approached the barn I could see patches of red paint amongst its splintered boards. I remembered back to its days of grandeur and when it was painted bright red and its frame the purest of white. Those days were few and far between and now its sturdy beams and rafters have given in to the elements. It’s no longer a safe place to play and its belly is dark and ominous. As I paused and reminisced of countless hours I spent with my father in the hayloft I could hear the sounds of innocence, I could hear the sounds of joy and of a carefree world and I could hear the voice of my father gently fading off into the distance.

I then made my way toward that once majestic barbed wire fence and I could now see that it had now been reduced to a fraction of its glorious past. Its sturdy posts that once stood firm and upright always reminded me of Roman columns holding up the most glorious of monuments. But much like ancient ruins they now remind me that nothing will stand the test of time, not the height of Greek and Roman architecture, not the firm and upright posts of a barbed wire fence, not even life itself. The barbed wire is now rusted and strewn out on the ground with no sort of meaningful direction. There is no metallic glisten of the wire to reflect the radiance of the sun, no longer any intent; it is just a fragment of its former self.

It’s summer now and the soft rolling hills are now painted gold with the tall blades of grass and the warm inviting air caused me to take refuge in the oak’s outstretched arms. As I nestled my weary body between two large protruded roots I found rest, and for the first time in a long time it felt like I was safe. This old oak was a familiar friend, I learned many of life’s lessons under its canopy and when the wind would rustle its leaves I could hear my father’s voice. I remember one spring afternoon with my father we decided to skip the traditional Sunday service and head out to visit what my father called “our good old friend”. As we approached the oak I could see a young fledgling sparrow lying dead next to the oak’s massive roots. It was my first experience with death but it would surely not be my last. My father went on to explain that life is “as fragile as a flower” and is something to be cherished. He told me to enjoy the time I have and that I should hold life close so that I might enjoy its wonderful fragrance. I learned so much under my friends old branches. I often wonder if it could recite to me all of the stories that I’ve heard and all of the lessons that I have now come to understand.

As I stood up and dusted off my backside I made my way around its massive trunk and to the other side. It was then that I saw my father’s and mother’s initial engraved into its bark. Their initials have faded with time but never the less still present. It was here that my father proposed to my mother and it was here that years later I would propose to my wife. Tears rolled down my face as I remembered the day I proposed. I remembered how it was a warm day in late June and how a summer storm snuck up on us as we slept in each others arms. I could now begin to taste the salt from my tears as they slowly made their way down and into my grinning mouth. It was such a beautiful day spent with the most beautiful of all women. It will be forever etched in my mind; I could still see her dance in the golden pasture as the large raindrops made her red dress cling to her swaying body. She is my Flaming June, forever my Flaming June. After convincing her to join me under the oak tree I held her close and with my middle and index fingers I gently removed the rogue strands of hair that were stuck to her face. I remember looking deeply and contently into her warm yet mysterious eyes and kissing her as if it was for the first time.

I don’t know exactly how long I stood under that old oak but the sun was coming dangerously close to setting behind the rolling hills and was causing my good old friend to cast a shadow across the golden pasture. As I made my way around to the two large protruded roots I hung my head low, closed my eyes and with my left hand I ran it across its bark. My fingers then noticed something they have never felt before. It was a scar from a lightning strike. The scar was long and deep, its sinister shape told of a time when nature stood in opposition of my good friend. As a further examined my friends scar I could see that despite the harshness of the storm it was still standing. Its leaves still blew with the breeze and it still gave shade to the weary much like myself. This oak was here long before my father and it will be here long after my numbered days.

The sun had now set behind the rolling hills and the sky went from a deep blue to dark purple. I could see that the stars were now waking from their long nap and eager to show their form. As I looked up at its great branches I began to regain my strength. I found courage in its longevity, peace in its stillness, rest within its outstretched branches and the hope of healing from its deep scar. I then took a long deep breath and gathered my thoughts. As I started to make my way back to my pickup I fumbled my way through the dark and cautiously avoided any posts from the barbed wire fence. I sat in the cab of my pickup for a few minutes and reluctantly started it up. As I cranked the wheel I could once again hear that familiar crackle of rock and dirt underneath the wheel as I began to drive off. As I made my way back down that long dirt road I looked in my rearview mirror and admired the faint silhouette of my grand old friend. I began to imagine that someday soon I will take my children here and watch their eyes glow with excitement as they see my good friend for the first time. I then refocused my attention back to the road and quietly said goodbye to my old friend as I started my journey home.

 

CWE

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