A Soldier’s Tree

Fall had again come to the back yard where the old battered tree proudly stood. The promise of winter would soon follow.  


The old oak sensed the storm on the on the horizon. In the past, it faced the winds like a brave soldier. Like the boy that played army under its canopy. Like the grown man-soldier that, he became.  


The winds whispered daily of the storm to come and the dark angel that road on it. The winds spoke of how the angel held tight the reins as he guided the storm. It was said he rode with vengeance, lightning in one hand and thunder in the other. His mission to destroy every living thing in his path. 


The angel was determined to befall the tree. The old oak held too many secrets. It was time to make room for the new. 


In early spring, the rumor of the approaching reaper was only on the breath of the wind. Soon the birds passing from the East whispered of its arrival. The robins refused to build their summer homes in the huge branches.


On the horizon, the storm only appeared as a small dust devil passing down a country road on a smoldering summer day. The old tree still stood proudly with only a few of its branches attached. Even its massive trunk looked deformed. Many storms had passed through its life. Some broke a branch, others ripped a piece of bark, some only blew away a few leaves, but each took its toll. The tree had no choice but to patiently wait for its fate.


As the storm drew near it became apparent that the death angel that rode the storm was part of life. The same life that had mangled and bruised the tree over the years.


At one time, the oak had been a beautiful specimen with three bird nests and two families of squirrels living in its strong branches. Its leaves were so lush and green that the grass below would blush with envy. Three grown men could stand and hold hands and still not reach around its massive trunk. It did not have a single scar anywhere and even the woodpeckers feared its tough exterior. Its massive limbs reached heavenly as if it was praising its creator. Its roots bored deep into the ground and its branches stretched high. It was if the tree was aware of its own beauty.


The early storms did little to this mammoth. Yet, after years of standing so prideful the storms began to take their toll. One had broken a branch while yet another had torn away a strip of bark. Still the tree was young and it soon covered its battle scars.


After many seasons, the scars began to show slightly. Now years later it was nothing more than a maze of broken and twisted branches and a trunk missing chunks of bark.



A poet may have looked at it and said, “ Come old death and take what was once beautiful from its misery.”


The tree had in the past stood proudly as children gathered around its huge trunk and swung from its branches. They were wise enough to know what wonders the tree held. The old oak had been a monster one-day and space ships the next. Later they would grow up and send their offspring to play the same games all over again.


The tree had been privy to thousands of secrets. It had also been part of many happenings. A young boy and girl’s first kiss, a proposal for marriage and a final kiss before a boy went to fight a man’s war.


The storm grew closer and the heat from the reaper’s breath intensified. If the tree could have spoken, it may have given away a few of its closely held secrets before its final demise. It may have told of a boy that had gone to war only to come back as an empty shell of a man. It may have told of an early winter night when the young man got on his knees, begged for forgiveness for the grave sins he had committed and then how he threw the rope over the limb. How he nervously placed his head in the noose. How shortly afterwards he would kick the three-legged milk stool from under his own feet. How his body would tremble waiting for the promised peace. Only the tree knew why it released its own healthy branch that winter’s night.


As the storm grew closer, it hungrily gnarled at the ground before it as it screamed and howled.


The reaper rode proudly. He did so love his calling. There was no end he would not go in order to keep his quota. 


If a human had been in the yard at the time, they may have sworn they heard the old tree moan out.


“ Yes, I refused to give him over that winter’s night. Maybe I did him no justice. Maybe it was his time and you knew better than I did.


“Many times he came and knelled  under my branches to beg for answers or even a bit of forgiveness, but I had neither to give. He had sinned against his own as well as himself. Instead of favor that cold clear night, maybe I gave him bitter pills that he would never be able to spit out or swallow.


 “I had no mercy or forgiveness to offer. Only a little shade on a hot day. You had stolen his peace in a far away place that I knew nothing of.”


“Paw it must have been a hundred years old. Don’t you think?”


“Don’t know son. I do know your granddaddy played under it as a child. Once told me he stole his first kiss from your granny standing about where you are standing now.”


“Suppose if the truth was told your maw and me might have smunched a few times out here ourselves.


“Your brother tried to end it all right over there the first time. Limb broke you know. I only wish the gun had jammed the second time.”


“Paw look. I’ll be darn if there ain’t a seedling coming up right were it blew over.”


“Be careful how you cut her up. That might make a good shade for your younguns’ some day.”



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