My oldest son asked me if I wanted to see the witching tree this morning.
“The witching tree?” I asked.
We were in our fenced backyard, enjoying the bearable coolness of the morning before the blanket of stifling humidity descended. He was trying to hit plastic golf balls with a lavender thrift shop club that was a few feet too large. (The club was the only leftie I could find and cost $3 - sold!). My two-year-old was tiptoeing about the grass holding a squishy football in each hand. I set down my watering can and glanced at the trees behind our property, wondered if he was referring to the tree that disturbed me, also.
Indeed he was. I know oaks and maples and pines, tulip trees and dogwoods, even trees of heaven and mimosas. But I don’t know what type of tree the witching tree is. Gangly and unevenly branched, the tree stands about 40 feet tall, but its branches seem to reach no more than four feet out. Curved at the top five feet, like a carnival funhouse fingernail, the tree seems to grow warped branches akimbo. While all the other surrounding trees flourished green this spring, the witching tree remained barren, leafless, until at last it proved it wasn’t dead. Perhaps it had read my mind – I’d fantasized sneaking onto the sewage easement and chopping it down, bare gray branches and all.
“What makes you call it the witching tree?” I asked
“Because it watches you.”
I nodded, momentarily at a loss for words.
“And I saw a green monster climbing on it just this morning. But it watches you. The tree watches you.”
I remembered when I was a child. In the bedroom of one of the houses my family lived in for a few years, the eyelike pattern in the wood grain on a closet door haunted me. In the dim dusk light, the surrounding patterns would morph around the eye into whatever demons feared me most. I would lie awake thinking, “I’m so scared of horses,” though actually I wasn’t, just so the wood grain and the shadows would transform into a horse instead of – instead of something else.
Is there a witching tree in your life?