There is a willow tree on the property, between the hedge and the sidewalk on the front side of the property next to the road. It is a weeping willow, a huge weeping willow, maybe 35 feet tall. You know the kind of tree that had drooping branches, but huge.
Remember me and my friends are 8 or 9. That was our playhouse in the summer, our tower for watching the town, our tree house (literally), our imaginary anything we could imagine, like a castle or a mountain or anything we wanted.
But it was more. It contained whips. I mean you could disconnect one of those supple branches, no smaller, twigs, no longer, stems. Stems seems as close to being descriptive as I can be. Stems with pith. More than tulip stems, but less than tree branches. Whips. We would disconnect them, strip the leaves and stems and behold: a buggy whip . It would almost snap like the whip you got from a circus or county fair. Everyone could have one, there were plenty to go around. The tree didn’t mind and my parents didn’t notice. And then we could whip stuff or have whip fights or whip stuff.
But the tree was more. It was dangerous. You had to be careful climbing. It was the easiest tree to climb and big, really big. As you moved up the tree you gained in confidence unless you were afraid of heights, but then you would stop climbing and sit on a branch. As you moved up the tree you began to feel it was OK, it was fun. And then you slipped.
Your foot may have slipped off the limb you were on, your hand may have lost hold on the limb you were moving up to or I don’t know what. (Not wind. Wind was fun and made the tree sway but wasn’t strong enough to make you fall.) And when you slipped sometimes, sometimes you fell, on accident. You fell a few feet or sometimes more and the tree caught you and you didn’t break anything, but maybe scratched something to provide a certification of your climbing ability or lack thereof.
Or sometimes you fell to the ground. When that happened it usually knocked the wind out of you and you couldn’t catch your breath. No concussions, no broken bones, nothing that would prevent you from climbing again when you were able to breath.
I don’t think we ever played cowboy in the tree. It was for climbing, watching, or imagining stuff.
When I think of this house in Coleridge, Nebraska, I think of the tree. I might have been in it watching the auction of all of our stuff when my father died leaving no will, before we moved back to Colorado. At night.