Rolling her eyes in exasperation, not at Frank’s question, but at her difficulty in expressing her thoughts, Ro stammered, “They’re… They’re… I don’t quite know the right word… Comforting? I feel good when I’m in the trees… Really good, like… Like I’m among friends…Energized somehow… But it’s not like I get the so-called runner’s high from the trees, that’s different… It’s more like this feeling of peacefulness…”
“And do you always touch them?”
“Yea, whenever I can, the really old ones, anyway.” She saw herself running along the narrow dirt trails. If an old tree was close to the path she would run her fingers lightly along its rough bark and mutter, “Respect,” as she passed. If it was off the trail – ten, twenty or more feet – she would just point at it and nod her head, again in reverence.
And she always stopped at Neshnala.
Frank cocked his head to one side, asking, but not actually saying, “And…?”
This conversation was turning out to be a lot more “personal” than she had originally thought.
With a sigh, as if she was afraid she was admitting to something that was going to be embarrassing, Ro said, “I’m showing my respect.”
“Oh,” Frank said with a nod, as if that was the most natural of answers, then rather unexpectedly asked, “How many times have you visited Neshnala?”
“Hundreds,” Ro said with a shrug. “The first time I think I was in second grade on a field trip. Bill Cummins” – the recently retired Five Falls park ranger that Frank had replaced – “told us it was believed to be at least 250 years old and that the Sauk Indians that lived in the area called it Neshnala, the Tree of Knowledge. As I said, my dad and I used to hike up to see it all the time and now, whenever I run out here, I always go through the Neshnala meadow.”
“Have you ever touched Neshnala?”
Ro reared back, stunned at the question. For as long as she could remember the tree had been surrounded by a six-foot high chain link fence.
“Would you like to?”
Her mouth dropped open. Of all the life experiences she might wish for, that was one Ro never thought she would or could have. In some corner of her mind she had to have known that Frank, as the park ranger, had the key to the Neshnala fence, but it had never occurred to her to ask him to open it for her and let her in.
“Oh my god, yes,” she said with excitement.
To be continued…
(C) 2018 Dave Lager