Daily Prompt – Ode to a playground tree

When I was growing up, there was a tree in our backyard. It was the tallest thing around and looked huge to a 6, 7, 12-year-old. It was a black cherry, bigger around than I could ever reach, and was our supplemental jungle gym.

It was a cool summer umbrella and a stark winter shaft, full of spring flowers and fall berries. We called them berries, though we were told to never eat them. Or crush them, the juice would stain. And it did, more than once, the childish irresistible urge sated by the juicy squish and pop of the seed from the thin fruit.

The leaves were smooth surfaces, with sharp serrations, a deep green in summer fading to red and yellow in the fall, in a thick carpet on the grass. The springtime blooms grew multiples on a single stem, and came off easily when pulled absently, flowery confetti, followed by green, then red, then nearly black fruits, perfect for pretend dinners. The thinner outer twigs made perfect leafy riding crops for fantasy and stick horses.

One of the most magical things about this tree? The way sap would ooze out wounds, mounding in reddish-gold, sticky piles of gelatinous rubber cement!

The lowest branch touched the ground, enough to let small kids climb up into the mottled coolness. We wore it out, though, and my dad cut it to two feet from the trunk, a platform for now-older kids to launch up.

My mom hung an hemp rope off another branch, knotted five times for climbing. It was much more fun for getting up into the higher branches, especially the grouping that grew in such a way that you could sit on one and lean over the next one, effectively holding you in place – essential for windy days! It seemed so high then, but we still couldn’t see out of the neighborhood. My younger sister wasn’t afraid to go up higher, but I couldn’t get beyond a certain point.

That was the last tree I climbed.

It was a hiding spot, a jungle gym, a hunter’s blind (for imaginary safaris), a shield (for inevitable stick gun battles), a backdrop for birthday photos – an ever-present constant in the chaos of my youth.

We moved after 10 years. I didn’t get back to the area until years after that.

The tree was gone, dug up for an in-ground pool, fenced away from the rest of the world. How much smaller the world must seem to those kids!

Written in response to the Daily Post Daily Prompt

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