Once upon a time there was an oak tree that stood next to my high school in Lexington, Massachusetts. One of many, I’m sure. Perhaps this particular one is still there. An unmolested tree will do that if you leave it alone. Stand there. Reaching upward to the sun on one end and downward to water and minerals on the other, with tough cellulose in the middle. You know what I’m talking about, you’ve seen a tree before. I like to think that it’s still there, I mean who the fuck cuts down a perfectly good oak tree? Well, I know people do, and they usually have a reason. The romantic in me likes to think that they are all misguided people with bad reasons. That there could never be a good reason to cut down a tree…ever. They take forever to grow, for Heaven’s sake. It was a black oak. It looked like the picture below, although this is magnificently photographed. It looks like this in my mind.
High school remembrances.
Minuteman is a very large school. It even has a big name, Minuteman Science and Technology High School. They sling learnin’ there, although I didn’t learn much, except how to feign interest in vocational studies like electronics, forestry, plumbing, and culinary arts. And I had to also reign in the terror that comes with being an obese and clumsy man trying his fat ham-hands at electronics, forestry, plumbing, and culinary arts.
Electronics is fear-inducing because of the very real risk of being electrocuted, but it also attracts a surly group of young people who, for reasons that still confuse me, are inclined to make threats of physical violence and then seem intent on carrying them out. I lasted two weeks. I consider that two weeks sufficient punishment for whatever bad things I had done with my life up until that point.
The lack of appeal of forestry should be really clear. They hang you from a branch, as high as they can find one, rig you to it, hang you from it, and then give you a chainsaw. And the chainsaw is on, open for business. The combination of swinging around 40 feet in the air while trying, vigorously, to control a chain saw is just…come on, it’s fucking ridiculous.
Plumbing involves blowtorches, morons, shitty pipes, and soldering. Enough said. It’s a very valuable trade, and you’ll never go without work if you can fix a pipe. I just advise not learning it at a vocational school. Why? Because young people are assholes.
Culinary arts are a whole ‘nother thing. A lot of people I admire greatly excel in it. It requires patience, an artistic disposition, a very thick skin, genuine skill, intelligence, and more. My initial, oddly specific, and extremely compelling problem with that discipline is the bread kneading machine. Sure as Hell, at one time or another, I’d get sucked into one of the infernal contraptions used to cook food for hundreds of people. Jesus. I know that about myself. Have you ever seen that hook thing they use to knead bread? Or a vat with a hundred gallons of hot soup (ok, I’d be safe with gazpacho, although I might drown)? Yeah, a death trap for me, a kitchen is. Plus, I don’t have the brains or thick skin or artistic disposition. One crack about an eclair I fucked up and I’d be running crying from the kitchen. fucking eclairs are important.
Don’t take culinary arts, my friends. You’ll end up burning, cutting, and/or possibly permanently maiming yourself in that damned thing meant to mix dough or cook soup for 1,000 people. Just a bit of advice that mostly applies to me, I suppose, because I’m terribly accident prone. So I’m giving advice to the wind as it blows back into my face and ear-holes.
People who know me know that I didn’t last long at Minuteman. Why? The physical education requirement. Whatever douche made “physical education” a required class should shampoo my crotch. I skipped out on every class. When my gym “teacher” asked me once, “Why can’t you just come to class?” I should have taken all my clothes off, pointed to my rolls of fat, jumped up and down, and turned around and bent over. I’m not sure why that last part appeals to me, but holy cats, what an image with which to have left him. Instead, I just left. But I went to night school, at Minuteman, no less.
That’s when I found the tree. Remember the tree?
Every night I would take classes and then volunteer two hours in the school library, mainly putting books back. So I mastered the Dewey decimal system, and had some great conversations with a teacher who happened to be a hippie. She showed, “Norma Rae” in class and we’d toss each other knowing glances at the particularly moving parts. A couple of pinkos.
After an evening of classes and volunteering, I would wait outside, usually in the cold, at the front entrance. In Lexington it is far enough from the city to appreciate the bright stars and darkness around them. And the bright, white moon is burned into my memory as it was framed by the branches of that black oak. It was mesmerizing. As I froze my ass off, I waited for my father to pick me up while I would position myself in just the right place for a thick branch to almost obscure that moon.
A black oak is a species of oak tree, by the way, and not just me trying to relate how bright the moon seemed in comparison. Although I dig that. All poetic and shit. It was during the school year, and the fall and winter meant that the tree was leaf-free. Free of leaves. Except for some of those dead, brown heroes that would hang on in the cold until the green spring leaves would push them out.
If I stood in the right place, the moon’s rays would cut through the bare branches of the tree. Sometimes I could obscure the moon entirely behind a thick branch, and the light would radiate behind the branches. The light was flat and the dark weaved atop it. On a special night, the tree was covered with ice from a storm, and the sky was free of clouds. It was magnificent, and made me swallow hard and I even found myself getting truly emotional. And it wasn’t a faux profound moment where you feel that you should be emotional, so you pretend you are. This was different. If I could explain exactly what it is that got to me so, I could author a masterpiece. As it is, I’ll just leave it alone. But I did write a poem about it long ago.
denuded branches arc and twist
against the frozen white face
of the moon
A glowing Siren’s call, tempting us
to step outside ourselves
And see everything we love
as the moon does
All framed in time and space
We try to resist the void it speaks of
while the black oak stands
and pays no mind.