Home > The Eagle Tree(6)

The Eagle Tree(6)
Ned Hayes

A man named Pat Tillman invented a game I like to play. He called the game Tarzan. I have never asked why he gave it that name or where it comes from, but I like the word. It buzzes on my tongue.

Pat Tillman’s Tarzan game requires very fast tree transfers on a steep hillside. If you are good at the game, you are transferring between trees that have no limbs touching, so you are jumping from one tree to another. The first time I tried it, I fell immediately to the ground. I was not very coordinated then. I think I broke my toe when I fell, but I did not tell anyone about that first fall, because I did not want my mother to tell me I could not play Tarzan.

I kept playing Tarzan after that, and eventually I got good enough at Tarzan that I could do it on very steep hillsides and in sparse tree sites, not just in dense tree growth. For me, it takes a lot of planning. I have to look up at all the tree holds before I make a single move. But when I have planned a climb or a tree transfer, I can execute it with some precision. If I don’t fall first.

Pat Tillman also used to play a game that is on television that is called football. However, I do not like balls, and I am not particularly interested in feet, so I have never seen this other game he played. Pat Tillman did not invent that game, but after he played that game, he volunteered to fight in a war.

“Pat Tillman lived in Arizona,” repeated my mother in the car.

“Yes, but he does not live there anymore,” I replied. If Pat Tillman were living there, I would go even to Arizona to do Tarzan jumps with him. But he doesn’t live there anymore, so we can’t.

“He is dead,” I said. “He died in the war.”

Then the car stopped by the blue mailbox, and I recognized that we had arrived at our new house. So I got out of the car. My mother had to remind me to close the car door afterward. I had forgotten to close the door because there were other things to look at in our new neighborhood.

There are many trees in our new neighborhood, and I had not yet climbed any of them. The first night I was in the house, I attempted to climb the Bigleaf Maple in our backyard, but I was unsuccessful. The day I got back from the hospital, as soon as we got inside the house, I asked my mother if I could climb a tree. And she said, “Jesus Christ, March, can’t we just eat first? Let’s eat breakfast. At the very least, some food.”

I climbed the Bigleaf Maple in fourteen steps and twenty-two minutes. The Cherry tree was even faster for me. When I came down from the Cherry, I saw the Western Red Cedar, Thuja plicata, next door. My mother said she would talk to the neighbors for me, to find out if I could climb the Red Cedar.

The man who opened the door had skin the color of a mature Douglas Fir and curly gray hair like steel wool on the top of his head. My mother introduced me to the man and said his name was Mr. Clayton. After my mother and Mr. Clayton talked for some time, he took us to his backyard, and we looked at the Red Cedar. The great roots of the tree arched upward into a rounded bolus covered with thick, red, peeling bark that curved into a narrower trunk with uncut limbs lifting toward the sky. The Red Cedar was perfect for climbing. Already I was calculating the steps I would take to move from the ground into the lowest branches of the tree.

Mr. Clayton also looked at the tree. He moved his head up and down and squinted at the reddish limbs. The shadow of the lacy twigs and leaves fell across his face, and so as he moved his head, he looked mottled brown and black for a moment, as if branches had grown across his brown skin.

Mr. Clayton turned toward my mother. “What exactly does he aim to do up in that tree?” he said.

“Just climb it,” said my mother. “That’s all. Then he’ll come straight down.”

She looked at me. I looked away immediately, but then I realized that she was looking at me to confirm my plans. I knew this because she has told me that when she looks in my direction, she expects that I will know that she is checking in with me. Sometimes I remember this—usually when we are out in public. Most of the time, especially at home, I do not remember this fact.

This was one of the times I remembered.

“I will climb the tree,” I said. “Then I will come straight down.” I had confirmed what she said. I thought this was the right thing to say.

Mr. Clayton rubbed his chin and slid his gaze toward me, and I prepared to glance away from him, but part of me wondered what it would be like to be able to freeze his face. I liked his face, but I could not look at his face directly. So I thought I would like to freeze him and look at him very closely, without the possibility of him ever moving. And then it occurred to me that it would be interesting to freeze everyone around me and look at them closely, to examine them like I examine tree bark when I climb. And they’d be just as still as a tree, and then I could understand them better.

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