There was this tree…

For me, it was the pungent sweet fragrance of ripe apples. The bees. The creek below. The shady relief from hot summer sun. The music. The people strolling by. Being up high.

Have you ever in an instant been transported to something from your childhood that you had long since forgotten, but now that you are reminded, it’s the first time you ever thought of it as such a bedrock of your early youth, a source of wonder, fun, solace and even mischief?

You never know what you’re going to hear when you leave your car radio on so that it fires up when you turn the ignition key. On this day it was the daily and superb public radio talk show “On Point” on WEKU and the comment of a guest, geobiologist and author Hope Jahren: “So many people have a special tree from their childhood; some tree that they remember being in their lives.”

Boom!

There I was as a boy, reclining in a crook of the branches of one of the apple trees along the creek next to our home in Morehead, Kentucky.

There were other apple trees nearby. But this tree was “The One:” its lower branches close enough to the ground to welcome a climb into an aerie scented by apple blossoms and buzzing with bees too focused on the gathering of pollen to be concerned with me.

I didn’t think of it this way back then, but realize now that I loved that tree in the way that I loved my home. It accommodated. It sheltered. There was an abundance of food all around. It was “my place.”

And from my perch, I could people-watch the college students rushing to and from classes on the campus of Morehead State University. Music came from just across the street, drifting through the windows of the then un-air conditioned Baird Music Hall, opened to bring relief from the summer heat. It was a place where friends knew they could find me. It was home base for kick-the-can.

And, it was a rocket launcher.

My dad had come home from work one day with a huge rubber band, saved from office packaging, just for me. He thought I would make something of it. My mom was horrified – quickly realizing just what I would make of it. She was right. Threaded through its looped ends stretched around two branches forming a fork, and loaded with an apple plucked from nearby, that innocent office supply paired with the strong branches of my apple tree accomplice was transformed into a most excellent and quite powerful sling-shot.

You don’t think about the big picture when you’re 10 years old. You live in the moment. So, I could not have foreseen that my apple launcher would send its payload sailing all the way across University Boulevard, coming down with a splat in the middle of a tennis court…that was in use at the time.

Fortunately, apple trees also provide good cover.

Now that I’ve been reminded, I really miss that tree. It’s gone now. “They put up a parking lot.” You know how that goes.

The “On Point” conversation that inspired this essay was about life, love and coming of age as a scientist. I’m sure they had no idea they would inspire the reminiscence of a budding, apple-launching tree-hugger.

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