The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes

1

I saw the Eagle Tree for the first time on the third Monday of the month of March, which could be considered auspicious if I believed in magic or superstition or religion, because my middle name is March, and this is the name that I like people to use to describe me, and I do not respond if you call me by other names. My mother continues to call me Peter, despite the fact that I have told her that I am March.

So seeing the Eagle Tree for the first time on the third Monday of the month of March might have been auspicious if I believed in things that are not true. But I do not. I do not believe a lot of the words people say, because people say things that are not true. People even have names for different things that are not true. I do not believe in anything that I cannot see with my own eyes or hear with my own ears. And I name all of these true things with their true names.

I believe in trees. I can touch them. And they have true names. They do not change in terms of what they are to me.

On the day I first saw the Eagle Tree, I was fourteen years, four months, and three days old. On average, I climb 5.6 trees every day. Some days I climb thirty trees. Some days I only make it to four, which is just one beyond my base. My base is three trees. I always climb at least three trees every single day, rain or shine, sick or well.

In the past, when we lived in the house with yellow paint and three steps in front of the door, I climbed three trees every day, the ones across the road from my house. I would climb those three trees every morning, before my mother woke up. I do not think she knew I did that, but maybe she did, because at breakfast she was always telling me to wash my hands before I ate. Even now, when I follow the rule to wash my hands, sometimes there are bits of bark on my skin, or needles and leaves under my fingernails, and perhaps she saw this kind of residue. I do not notice this typically, unless she draws it to my attention.

When I wash my hands, I have to look at my skin. I see that my fingers are callused from gripping tree limbs, and my nails are short and grubby with bark. They are like the claws of a bird that lives only in trees.

On the third Monday of the month of March, I was climbing the Western Red Cedar—Thuja plicata—next door to our new house with the blue mailbox. I did not go to school that day. And my mother did not go to work, because she picked me up in the morning from the place I was over the weekend. It was the first day I was back in our new house.

In fact, I was in the backyard of the house next door for the very first time. We had just met the man next door, Mr. Clayton, and I had just seen his name on the black mailbox next to our blue mailbox, which made it easier for me to remember his name.

Then, after meeting Mr. Clayton, nineteen minutes and forty-two seconds later, I was able to climb the tree that grows in his yard. That day was the very first time I had ever been in that Western Red Cedar. It was my second tree of the day.

Because I did not yet know the pattern to climb the Red Cedar, I had to spend much time charting my route and counting my steps. That is why I did not notice the Eagle Tree until I reached nearly fifty feet up into the limbs of the Red Cedar. I was counting my steps and memorizing the route for future use.

When I close my eyes now, I can see precisely how it happened; each step is a picture in my mind.

As I clear the canopy of the smaller trees that grow near the houses in this neighborhood, I pull myself into my twenty-seventh move, lifting my right leg to rest on a small branch. I test the small branch. It is not stable, and I decide not to go any higher. The bandages on my arm are bothering me again, and I consider taking them off, but I remember the rule my mother told me about the bandages.

Nevertheless, when I think of taking off the bandages, I stop moving. I stand on the branch, and I look out from the Red Cedar. Then I realize what I see.

From this angle, I can see the valley of trees on the other side of the river of roofs in front of me.

The wind picks up, shaking the smaller limbs and dropping dust and shards of Red Cedar bark on me, but I grip tight, still staring.

I can see something on the other side of the valley—actually, above and beyond the valley—and although it is as huge as a water tower, I know at first sight that it is organic.

It is a tree. It is a tree larger than I have ever seen in my life. The great trunk rises above the forest canopy, a round cylinder nearly bare until the top, where projecting limbs jut out in stunning perfection at the highest altitude. Even from this distance of a mile or more, I can see protrusions on the limbs that look like growths or nests. But nests are unlikely; most birds like to nest within the canopy. This tree is a thing of perfection, distinct and alone.

At the time, I did not know that it was called the Eagle Tree. I just thought of it as a very large tree.