The Old Oak Tree

My parents’ house in Pensacola used to have two big oak trees: one in front, one in back. Dad had them removed after Hurricane Ivan broke some big branches off the one in the back, but I remember growing up with those trees. The tree in our back yard was damaged before we moved in; one side had a cavity that would belch forth swarms of winged ants each summer. Rot had already started obscuring the evidence by the time it occurred to me to wonder, so I don’t know how that tree was initially damaged, but there’s a story in it:

The back yard looked sick. Her mom said that everything was thirsty because of the drought. The leaves on her favorite tree in the back corner were wilting, and Jessica was afraid she wouldn’t get to see the soft purple flowers this year. The grass was patchy and brittle, and Jessica and her mom had to water their small garden by hand each day. Even the big oak in the middle of the yard seemed to feel it. When Jessica looked up at its branches, she imagined that they were drooping and sad. She’d tried bringing buckets of water out to it, but when her dad caught her filling them in the kitchen he’d hidden the bucket and told her not to waste water. But that would all change tonight. Jessica was young, but she knew what was coming.

She smelled rain on the air.

She spent the rest of the day fidgety with excitement. Her mom told her again and again to sit still during dinner, but it was no use. How could Jessica sit still when the air outside was wet, and breezy, and cold with promise? The rain would come, and water the yard, and it would be green again.

The rain came after Jessica went to bed. It started as a soft patter on the roof, each drop a separate sound. Then a wave of sound moved through the house as the real rain came. Jessica lay awake in her bed, listening to the rush. Thunder rumbled, and when it faded she could hear another sound above the storm as the water started running off the roof and through the gutters and down to the ground at the corner of the house. Jessica snuggled under her covers, thinking sleepy thoughts of green grass and purple flowers.

She was almost asleep when there was a crack, louder than anything Jessica had ever heard before. She squeaked, and pulled the covers over her head. She was still hiding when her dad came into her room and told her that everything was ok; he and mom were fine, and the house was fine, and the storm was passing, could she hear it?.

Jessica peeked out from beneath the covers and listened. The sound of the rain was softer now, more like lots of drops hitting the roof instead of a river. When she smiled, her dad smiled back and left Jessica to fall asleep.

The next morning, Jessica peeked through the glass doors into the back yard. Everything was wet and dark, from the ground to the grass to the bark of the oak. After breakfast, her dad took her into the yard to show her what had made the big noise. Jessica gasped when she saw the blackened gash running along the side of the oak tree.

“Will we have to chop it down?” she asked, tears ready to fall.

“I don’t think so, honey. It’s not deep.” Her dad put a hand on her shoulder. “Why don’t we keep an eye on it and see what happens?”

Jessica grinned. “Ok! I’ll check it every day, I promise!” Then, tears forgotten, Jessica ran off to explore the rest of the yard to see what other changes the storm had made. The grass already looked greener, she decided, and there would now be purple flowers to look forward to.



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