I've walked my country roads for twenty-nine years now. They're glad for my company, especially this season when their trees cast off their color and I applaud their performance. Lindens. Sugar maples. Red maples. Swamp birch. The Oaks still cling to their leaves.
The poor Ash. I've already forgotten their structure and leaf.
There's one ancient Oak in particular that waits for me. Her extraordinary girth is nailed with four toeholds. "Come play," beckon her numerous branches.
Truth is, I'd be trespassing. And what if I fell from a limb? My agility and strength aren't what they were three decades ago.
But those four toeholds won't leave me alone. Who nailed them to the tree? A young farm boy, or a hunter? Or a tomboy like me? How long ago?
My last walk I stopped and touched the toeholds. "Now listen Grandmother Oak. I just want to know your history. I'm not going to climb. That's absurd. You're not my tree. And if you were, I'm a senior citizen, for heaven's sake."
I have a soft spot for trees. As a child I climbed gnarly trunks to pick little green apples. Swung from many a branch. I carved my initials and my husband's and a heart around both on a tree's bark. We climbed it, hung from it. Posed for pictures. We snoozed in the shade and breeze.
I grew up with trees, I tell Grandma Oak. I'm known amongst my kinfolk for swinging from a branch of a dead tree over a cliff in Kentucky. Of course the dead tree and over the cliff parts were my mother's hysterical perception. She meant no harm. She never was a tree swinger and didn't know better.
My three girls climbed trees when they were young. My husband and I drove them from our Detroit home to Blake's Cider Mill in Armada to pick apples for applesauce. We loved my mother's chunky applesauce with cinnamon. She preferred the indoor sport of cooking.
Our friends Barb and Denny and their three boys followed us to Blake's for a few years. A perfect match for kids chasing and hiding in an apple orchard.
In the midst of limbs loaded with apples, it seems as if I was born knowing the legend of Johnny Appleseed. What American child doesn't know the pioneer nurseryman and hero who tramped from his home in Massachusetts to Fort Wayne, Indiana, planting apple seeds?
Wait a minute. Massachusetts to Fort Wayne, Indiana? That means Johnny could've planted trees in Michigan. He owned over 1,200 acres of orchards in the Midwest. It's possible he planted here. That's quite a history for a barefooted man who sold trees and hard apple cider for pennies.
Dear Reader, this may seem preposterous, but is it possible Johnny Appleseed hammered those four toeholds into Grandmother Oak? Has my imagination swung over a cliff on a dead branch?
Well, I do have a history of soft spots for trees.