When my dad came to visit last week, we took the kids to River Road Park and wandered around, struck by the way in which the exposed roots paralleled family reunions. The way family life leaves us exposed and vulnerable at our most tender spots, the areas which keep us connected to this earth and the world of meaning woven by intimate interactions.
Every family, like every tree, has its own adaptations to the soil and environment in which it grows.
There are ways, for example, in which my trunk is crooked with cravings for books and tender touch, desires so exorbitant that the native soil in which I grew could not possibly have met them.
Over time, we reflect the way in which light and shadow crossed our path. Each new branch suggests a new growth- a new way of reaching towards something in life- so each hope becomes a possibility, a fork in the endless numbers of path defining who we are and how we grew into it.
“Tell me a story about trees and roots,” I ask the Eldest, hoping the lilt in my voice will go unnoticed. He tells me about the way the tree trunks facing the river bear more moss on their sides. I am struck by the courage with which he tells a story that remains open to the question of “why”.
There is a sense in which I am just an unintended audience, a woman on the banks of the Black Warrior River who happens to overhear a boy’s conversation with the trees. A bystander inclined to read too much into the seeing the reflection of the ivy’s burden staring back up from the water.
There is more to see. I find myself admiring the graceful tree whose roots are completely exposed. How the root stretches sideways into the bank, building strength into the horizontal axis.
I make a note to myself to journal the associations of the word exposed and horizon or horizontal.
I make a note to myself to honor the engravings of time in my dad’s face, setting them next to the trunk of a tree, discovering how life marks us with the storms we have weathered.
“Hey dad,” I say, stifling a laugh, “keep talking like that with your arms in the air…”
The professor expounds his contrarian views on climate change. I agree to let myself disagree with him, saying only that we are responsible for the ways in which we change the world, whether for better or worse. It is easy to argue with the professor- and easy to love him in spite of the disagreements. The Strawberry Shortcake sticker on the underside of his sleeve ends his serious lecture and leaves us laughing.
Bunicu and the king, between beards.
Find a tree, survey the roots, and tell its story. The words you find, like the soil we cultivate, are held in common.