Not since I had taken my first steps had I ever been this unsure of myself. Cautiously, I stepped onto the rough bark of the enormous tree in front of me. Gently, my adopted father coaxed me on further and further. Very slowly, baby step by baby step, I proceeded onward. Behind me, the man who had spent years walking across beams of steel high in the air, continued to reassure me. The giant oak we were walking on was extremely sturdy even if it was at a 30-degree angle. Further and further we went up and out on this massive living organism. Below, the distance between us and the leaf-covered forest floor continued to grow. Finally, we reached the furthest point we could attain as the branches of the mighty oak impeded any further progress. With the morning sun filtering down through the surrounding trees, my father and I stood out on that majestic tree that had succumbed to some force of nature years ago. Like two mountaineers who had just succeeded in conquering some great snowcapped peak, we relished in the moment. Using his imagination, my new father would pretend we were two ironworkers up in the air on the skeleton of some high-rise being built in New York City. He was a guy named “Mac”, and I was “Joe”. Or was it the other way around? Regardless, it was the first time in my life that I’d ever done anything like this. Standing 15 feet above the forest floor on this tree was only the beginning of many experiences where I would push myself to do things outside of my comfort zone. It was also the first time I had a man in my life who recognized the potential in me and who pushed me to do great things, to never fit in with the crowd, and to live as honorable a life as possible.
Climbing the dinosaur tree (we nicknamed it that because it reminded us of some great prehistoric beast) became something we did regularly when we went to the property in western Virginia. Sometimes I would visit the dinosaur tree by myself as my father worked on the property elsewhere. Confidently, I would climb out onto the tree. Reaching the furthest point, I would let my young imagination run wild. I was the captain standing on the bow of my schooner as it cut through the blue green ocean waters. Dolphins bolted and darted alongside the ship. I was on a journey of exploration. I was the master of my domain. Other times, I was a famous bird watcher waiting patiently to catch a glimpse of some rare species.
Year after year went by, and the tree remained steadfast and true. As I grew older, my visits to the dinosaur tree became fewer and fewer. With time, the once great tree fell victim to old age, the elements, and insects. Eventually it was no longer sturdy enough to climb out on. The once majestic tree that provided me with so many wonderful childhood memories was nearing its end.
Forty years after I was introduced to the dinosaur tree by my father, I still sometimes walk to the same spot where where it once rose out of the ground. Nothing remains of it now. It’s once gigantic “body” decomposed years ago. Standing where the tree once protruded from the earth, I fondly recall the first time I walked nervously out onto it with my steadfast father right behind me.
The tree is long gone. My father is still here. I miss that tree. And there will come a day when I will miss my father. I would like to think that there would be a dinosaur tree in heaven where Mac and Joe will meet up again someday.