The afternoon sunlight shines through the pointed leaves of this one-hundred-year-old Black Maple tree. The shifting beams glaring into the soft focus of my squinting eyes. The swift movement of the wind is swaying the illuminated leaves and their eclipsing branches, letting the light and dark shapes morph as one would see in a kaleidoscope. It is the first of October, and the trees are starting to turn a reddish-yellow tint. There’s a chill in the air, but lying on my back in the grass, beneath this behemoth of a tree, I want to be nowhere else.
I am in a grove on the east corner of my grandpa’s property. A good walk away from his orchards, out near the little-used access road that’s just down this forested hill.
It’s the very same property he’s had since before my father was born. The same land that, at the turn of the nineteenth century was still in Native American hands and teeming with big game wildlife. The US government acquired it through treaties long ago, and God knows it was likely under duress that the Miami Nation agreed to give it up; surely they had major protest surrendering such a beautiful area.
My ancestors bought the land in turn and now, I think it would be hypocritical to empathize too much with the natives’ plight because here I am the eventual owner of the land if it continues to be handed down. I find it interesting how we are both a captive and freed by our history.
I’m alone out here now, but not really. I can hear the bustling hum of interstate 75 in the distance, and I don’t mind. It’s like a natural sound out here just as are the woodpeckers, crickets, cicadas, and that furry flash that’s bounding past me in the periphery of my vision.
This is my refuge. I’m pretty sure we all can get to that one perfect place that provides a bottomless well of inspiration.
I feel I need mine more and more as life has been stressful lately and I’m struggling to keep it all together at both my home and work.
I need the calming effect I feel here that brings my sanity back to normal levels. It’s non-judgmental therapy, and, oh how it jogs the memory of my many summers here as a carefree kid. It’s arguable if being 42 years of age qualifies as old, but it does seem I’ve lived a very long time.
I’ve worked since I was twelve years old, between the apple farm to the various trailer factories in Hartford, up until now with my Internet business. It just seems ages and no matter how old I get, I long for the simplest periods of my life. I’m not sure if it’s just me being mentally lazy or if it’s something more. In those days my mind was loaded with creativity. As an impressionable kid, I’d watch old programs on our TV console, fuzzy with shadows and missing the contrast knob. School was out for the summer and I’d get in as much TV as possible before my mom would kick me out of the house saying “I want you outside playing because when it’s raining, you’ll be sorry!”
But those cartoons and shows gave me my character then; they taught me about our culture and gave me a sense of humor. What of adulthood would be tolerable without it? I quote lines from these shows even to this day. That connection seemingly will never be unplugged.
My train of thought is broken when I then hear someone approaching. I look up to see an attractive blonde woman walking up to the tree.
“Hi!” She says cheerfully.
“Hello.” I counter.
“Do you mind if I join you?” She says.
“Not at all, please do!” I am kind of shocked to see someone else out here, but if anyone, she’d be my pick for sure.
“I’m happy to know it’s not just me who wastes time lying under shade trees.” She says with a grin.
“Yeah, same here, it’s something I’ve done out here for a long time… it is beyond relaxing,” I say looking into her pale blue eyes.
“Me too, this one’s my favorite.” She said looking up at the maple allowing the scattered dots of diffused light to flicker over her soft face.
“Oh… I’ve never seen you here before,” I state.
“Well, I have seen you. I’ve just been too embarrassed to join you before now.” She admits.
Hmm…how oblivious of me.
I tell her “Well, I’m glad you joined me today.” I smirk and she smiles as she lies down a few feet away.
“By the way, I’m Rob…pleased to meet you.” I extend my hand and she shakes it with a touch so soft that it could’ve been mistaken for a willow.
“I’m Julie, it’s a pleasure.” she turns her head and looks up through the branches to the filtering sun.
I caught myself staring at her. From the side profile, her lips have a perfect shape. Her lashes are long and she wore a pink eye shadow. She’s a thirty-something beauty in her Midwest sort of way, that is, looking classy and delicate while unmistakably an earthy Indiana girl.
Those eyes look so familiar. My mind is flipping through a catalog of recognition but to no avail.
“Rob, tell me what you see when you look up there.” She points into the leafy canopy.
I thought for an extended pause and clear my throat.
“When I squint, I see scenes of my early years. It’s as I’m looking through our old photo albums. I’m reminded of friends and relatives that have come in and out of my life, figures that smile down at me. They seem alive, but in a super 8 film kind of way. Yeah…seems crazy that I make it all that, I know.”
“Not crazy at all, that’s awesome! You want to know what I see?” She asks.
“Tell me, Julie,” I can’t hold back a fascinated grin.
“I see an eternity, where things in this life have been and where they’ll be in the future. It always surprises me what my little mind sees and makes of it all!” She snickers at the thought.
I’m smitten with her as she turns her head to gaze at me. How beautiful! I am sure she could get any man’s attention. Through her eyes, it’s as if I can peer into her soul, like looking through a window into a sanctuary. “I don’t think like that too often, you know, of eternity and all that. It just makes me feel that we’re so insignificant…like single leaves amid miles of forest.” When I say this she looks upset.
“Rob, what would make you think we’re insignificant?”
I pondered that question for a few seconds. “I guess because, if I died right now, I won’t be remembered for anything. I’m anonymous.” I feel as if I have just ruined our good dialogue, yet I go further in that direction, “Like the Native Americans that used to be here. I wonder did their lives mean anything in the scope of time. Except for a handful of their leaders, what do we truly know about them?” I explain. “At times I feel when I pass away, I won’t even warrant a mention” I feel self-disgust.
Her patient eyes fixed on mine, “That’s just not true! Who do we really live for, Rob? We live for ourselves and our loved ones, not necessarily the archives of time, right? Must we be famous to be significant? I say no…We know the Native Americans had parents, spouses, children, and friends who loved them; as do we, and although we have little idea what they were about…who are we to say that their lives were not significant? They were to someone.”
I nod, feeling a morale boost. She continues.
“Wouldn’t we be short-sighted to think people like Thomas Edison or Henry Ford didn’t have significant help along the way with their collective triumphs? There had to be some inspiring voice that had sparked their inventiveness, that one unknown soul along the line that pointed them in the right direction. That unknown soul is significant, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Well…you’re right, I know but, sometimes I feel that unknown soul is even more significant than I. It seems there was something greater to invent or some better virtue to fight for back then. I guess, I just don’t feel I’ll have that worth.” I then feel foolish feeling sorry for myself.
“Listen to me, Rob, if you never become famous for anything, you still are so vital, and valuable, and loved rather you realize it or not. Things that you do and say stick with people and it may inspire or encourage them too; we are all building blocks so to say, you must believe that!” She continues, “I mean, look at me for instance, why do you think that I’m here?”
I look up at her, confused. “Have we met before?”
“Think back to the summer of 1987…to the Pine Manor neighborhood in Hartford, when you were that cute young guy riding around on your silver Huffy. I lived in that brick, split level house on the corner.”
God, I knew I recognized her. Noting my recognition she continues.
“Yeah, and I was delighted that you helped me on that hot Saturday in July, remember that? The chain fell off of my ten-speed bike, and you rode up behind me and said you could fix it…then I kissed you for helping me.” She pauses.
“Julie Corr!” I exclaim.
“I knew you had a crush on me Rob, and I would have probably been your girlfriend too, had I not been so much older. But you were thirteen and I was sixteen. It was only three years apart, but it was probably the worst possible time for an age gap like that. I was in high school and you were a seventh-grader. I didn’t forget you, Rob, I never will. Believe it or not, you are why I’m attracted to shaggy-haired, brown-eyed guys,” She said as her teenage voice came through.
My smile grows almost painful, “How did you ever find me here?” I say perplexed.
“Look at me, Rob,” she stands up and continues. “My clothes, my hair, my make-up…it is 1987.”
I then have a terrible feeling inside; I had been so enchanted, that I had not noticed that about her.
I sit up and feel a chill blow right through me.
I mutter “Julie, are you a ghost?”
She laughs, “No Robbie, not in the way that you’re thinking. I am very much alive.” Her eyes sparkled. “I do wish I still looked this good.” She laughs again.
“How then…?” I ask.
“I came from there, “She put her hands together pointing with both index fingers up into the tree. “I am in that spirit,” She adds.
I’m feeling bewilderment like I never have.
“I have to go now, but I’ll see you again sometime.” With a winsome smile, she strolls down the hill.
I wave to her, beaming. I want to say something, but don’t know where to begin.
“Bye, Robbie!” she shouts like I heard it decades ago.
Just like that, she is gone. I stand up, brushing the soil from the seat of my jeans. I peer down the hill to the lonesome dirt road. The chill once again fills me thinking how she just fell from that tree, like apples in my grandpa’s orchard.
I try to remember details of my brief time in that Hartford neighborhood, I do know that Julie caught me off guard when she kissed me, and for that one summer, I had bragged to all my pals that I had an older girlfriend. No one questioned that when we all rode bikes past her house one afternoon when she was getting the mail. She gave me a huge smile and blew a kiss. I felt like Superman…like I could do anything.
Now, I stand here struck, feeling both melancholic and proud.
“Significant,” I whisper.
I lie back down and gaze up into the tree. Through that soft focus of shifting branches and fluttering leaves bathed in the late afternoon sunshine, I think I can see an eternity.
-Artist and Writer from Los Angeles currently living in Indiana- the bulk of my writings are short stories and poems that deal with a range of subjects including: emotional distress, strange happenings, thrillers and suspensestories.