Home > The Eagle Tree(9)

The Eagle Tree(9)
Ned Hayes

My mother had said I must not climb the Eagle Tree. However, she had not said anything regarding climbing other trees in the old-growth belt that surrounded the tree. The overhanging branches and the large root system of the Eagle Tree prevented companion trees from growing right next to it. Maybe the tree liked this; maybe it liked to have its roots alone on the forest floor. I did not know if this was intentional on the part of the Eagle Tree, but by clearing part of the forest it could grow without impediment.

When I am stressed, my arms sometimes move on their own in big flapping motions, as if I might take off, and my hands spin like a hummingbird’s wings. I would like to think that the Eagle Tree cleared the canopy around it the way the flapping of my arms sometimes keeps away other people that I do not want to interact with.

However, despite this cleared area around the base of the tree, many other trees reached their branches into the zone of the Eagle Tree. They stretched toward it.

So I stepped back and decided to climb a Western Larch, Larix occidentalis, which was growing on the edge of the clearing around the Eagle Tree. This tree’s upper limbs touched the Eagle Tree.

It is very unusual to see a Larch on this side of the Cascade mountains. The Larch is a member of the family Pinaceae. There are over ten species of Larch around the world that are deciduous needle trees. But we have only one in the Pacific Northwest, and that is the Western Larch. It is unusual, because it is a conifer that drops its needles, and also I had never before seen one here in Olympia.

I would climb this Larch as a consolation prize for waiting to climbing the Eagle Tree. I would climb the Eagle Tree’s immensity another day, when I had worked up the courage.

The Larch was the closest tall tree to the Eagle Tree, but it was only about one hundred feet high. Uncle Mike said some words to me when I started climbing, but by the time I remembered to listen to him, I was already twenty-five feet up, and I just kept going.

The out-of-region Larch I am climbing is leaning inward, as if the Eagle Tree contains a magnet to pull all other smaller trees toward it. I am pulled in its direction too.

As I hitch myself high in the Larch, I get a better look at one of the Eagle Tree’s long branches, and I realize that the Eagle Tree might be a species of Pine. If it is the type of Pine I am thinking of, it would be very unusual to see it this close to the coast. What is it about this hilltop that grows out-of-region trees?

I wait in the Larch for a long time, watching the Eagle Tree. I do not move. I hardly breathe. The sun drifts lower in the sky. The shadows change. And just as I am thinking I will climb down out of the Larch, I see something move in the upper part of the Eagle Tree, on a single large branch that reaches out from the crown at the top.

It is a bird. But it is not a bald eagle. The eagles are long gone from their nest at the top.

I recall the pictures of birds that I looked at last winter in the book called Birds of the Pacific Northwest Coast. The pictures I saw then are stored in my memory with photographic precision. Uncle Mike does not believe that I can remember which page number a picture is on in a book I looked at last year. But I can. And that is what I do now.

On page 43 is a picture of the auk family, and the beak of the bird in the Eagle Tree is curved like it is the relative of an auk. Lower down on the page, underneath the paragraph about the extinct great auk, is a bird that looks like this bird. In the picture, it has curved stripes of black and white. The book calls it marbling.

But this bird in the tree is fluffier than the bird I saw in the book. There are differences. The wings are shaped a little differently. The eyes are not precisely the same.

This bird looks at me with black eyes. They glimmer, small obsidian rocks in the gloom. I stop breathing entirely. I do not blink. I hold my breath until I see red spots in the corners of my eyes, and my hands grow numb. But then the bird turns its head away and pecks at something on the tree branch. I breathe again.

The differences between the bird in the book and the bird on the tree limb I attribute to age and sex and observance. The bird on the tree may be younger; the bird may be a different gender. I am perhaps seeing the bird from a different angle. I know that there is a greater than 80 percent likelihood that my identification of the bird is accurate.

It is a marbled murrelet. A juvenile murrelet. And it has disappeared from view.

After I climbed down from the Western Larch, I went to the car, where Uncle Mike was smoking his pipe and reading the paper. “About time you came down. It’s getting pretty dark. I was about to come in there and get you out of the tree myself.”

There was a pause, and I realized he wanted me to say something.

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