It was St. Patrick’s Day.
Well, not quite. It was the Saturday before. But everyone was pretending it was St. Patrick’s Day, and so there was a lot of revelry going on that afternoon, with families gathering on the green square that, while not emerald green, was starting to show some signs of life here in North Carolina.
And the walking lifeforms present, the mammals especially (mostly human and canine) were equally decked in green like that grass, all pretending to be Irish for a day.
Which I find exceedingly odd.
Every March we seem to all forget, or forcibly ignore, the history of “Irish Need Not Apply,” a sign that meant much to my Scotch-Irish family at one time. I’m sure we’d like to think that we’ve forgotten that history because we’ve grown past it, but I suspect humanity has just decided to trade prejudices.
Which is a disgrace that I’ve written about before in other posts.
But, anyway, we’re there on the lawn, and the boys are playing with other kids, and they’ve all picked up sticks and started to cast spells on each other with them. Harry Potter is pretty popular in our house, even for as young as the boys are. Magic entrances the old and young alike.
But then the wands became swords, which is a natural evolution that probably is a nice metaphor for human evolution somehow, and the sticks started to be used to hit this big, old oak tree in the middle of the square.
Swing. Chip. Chop. The kids hit the tree with relish, and the bark started to fly and the sticks started to break, which sent them in search for more sticks. Chaos. Fun. Smiles. Laughter. Almost too much to stop it. The adults kept their distance, letting them play for a bit in that anonymous, friend-making way kids play before they pick up those social norms that will destroy their ability to get along with anyone and everyone. No one wanted to interrupt the play.
And I said, “Hold my beer,” and my friend obliged, and I walked over and I knelt down next to the tree alongside my youngest, Alistair. He was hitting the tree with that stick, fighting an imaginary foe.
And I touched the tree.
I felt it like you’d touch an old gravestone or an important marker. He watched me. “Feel it,” I invited him. He reached his hand out, eyes wide. “What’s it feel like?” I asked. “It’s rough,” he said, inspecting it carefully.
Then I touched his arm in the same way. “This is the tree’s skin,” I said. “It’s like yours. Feel yours.” He did. “Your skin keeps you safe. The bark keeps the tree safe.”
“It’s alive,” he said.
“Yes, and growing. We can’t hurt its skin. Touch it. It’s alive. You’re right,” I said, turning back to it. “We can climb it. We can hang a swing from it. We can do all sorts of things with it, but we can’t take its skin.”
He dropped his stick. He invited his brother to feel it, too. And soon the kids were all feeling the tree, sticks at their sides.
And then they ran off to play swords and wands and other games, and left the tree to stand sentinel.
And all it took was reminding them that the tree was to be used, not hurt or destroyed.
All it took was to remind them that it’s alive, like them.