The breeze blew, sweet and cool, lifting and separating my daughter’s strawberry curls until they wave from her scalp like little, red, fiddlehead ferns. It tugged at my son’s wispy, blond comb-over, ruining the hair illusion.
It’s our favorite park, this park. It’s a 12 minute drive from the sticky asphalt of our crowded city. 12 minutes and whammo, green. Lovely, earthy, green. It’s a multi-purpose park, this haven. Perfect for short nature walks, picnics, cross-country runs, dog walking, and late night teen drinking binges.
The tall, gnarly, cranky old pines stand at attention over languid little groves of oak and birch. There are low, craggy “mountains” that overlook the entire area. A slow stream lollygags along the bottom of a steep, wooded bank and a small, busy pond sits near the playground. If you’re lucky, and early, you might see a Great Blue Heron standing there, trying to ignore your family before it unfurls its wings and shoots a disdainful flight to the other side. Snubbed by nature. No one likes toddlers that early in the morning.
This morning was exciting because the P-nut chose a nature walk over sprinting straight to the playground. The first thing we encountered was one of those tall pines. Huge patches of its bark had sloughed off and were lying in piles at the foot of the tree.
“Lookit that tree, honey. What happened to that tree?” Said P-Nut.
“Ookit at Tree!” her brother agreed.
“I’m not sure. I think it might be sick.”
“The tree is sick honey?”
“ I think so.”
“Sometimes trees get sick. It could be bugs or a tree virus.”
Then both kids spent five minutes whipping pieces of bark at the dying plant's bare flesh. They’re healers.
We continued up the path and it wasn’t long before we came to another of those pines. This one had fallen across the path, the top of it had crashed into the undergrowth at the bottom of that steep bank; the bottom was thrust 5 or 6 feet into the air. We had to clamber over a slender collateral damage tree and under the big one to keep going.
“What happened to that tree, daddy?", said the P-Nut.
“Tree!” The Pumpkin man knows how to cut to the chase.
“The wind blew it over.”
“The wind blew it over? Why’d the wind blow it over?”
“Sometimes the wind blows really hard, and when that happens, trees sometimes fall.”
“Can we fix it?”
“No honey, we can’t.”
“What about all the other trees?”
“The wind won’t knock those down, honey. They’ll be ok.”
“Why won’t the wind knock those over?”
“Well because the one that fell was huge and old, and maybe just ready to be knocked over.”
With that, we make our way out of the woods of death and over to the playground.
We play contentedly. The dog runs off to do dog things. Roll in disgusting smells. Eat dead shit. Play pinochle with a wise-crackin’ squirrel. Go on a teen drinking binge.
Our little group gathers together and starts for the car. We get a few steps when we see a friendly little Australian shepherd mix named Edgar. We know him pretty well. He and our dog Ruby have been playing together intermittently for about 2 years. His owner comes up and puts a leash on him, which is odd. I notice there is something a little off about the coloring on Edgar’s face.
“Hey, how are you?” I cheerfully chirp.
“Ok”, says Edgar’s owner. Edgar doesn’t answer.
“Something up with Edgar?”
“He had surgery.”
“He had his eye removed.”
“He had his eye removed? O, my. What happened?” I ask.
“He had a tumor in it.”
“Oh poor Edgar. Did they get it all?”
“ Well, we’ll see . . .”
“So they didn’t--?”
“They got the tumor, but the c . . . you know . . . (he shrugs).”
I tell him how great Edgar looks after major surgery, other pleasantries are exchanged, I mentally curse because I know what's coming, and we’re off.
“Daddy,” says the P-Nut, “ They took his eye?”
“Yes they did honey.”
“Because Edgar was sick and the only way to make him feel better was to take out his eye.”
“Now what will they do?”
“Now, someone will keep the eye safe somewhere (Toledo?) and Edgar will feel better.”
“Do you see the breeze in the trees?”
“I do sweetie. It’s a nice breeze. A friendly breeze.”
“The wind that blows the trees, will it blow us?
“Can the wind get in the car? “
“No the car is safe sweetie. Let’s go get some donuts.”
Did I bail out on that conversation? I don’t know. All I know is:
Forest of Despair: 0