Friday, July 28, 2006


In Which We See the Forest For the Trees...

"Well, it wasn't one of my guys," said the landscaper I had just collared from two houses down. We were standing in my back yard, under the shade of the aspen where the Brownie claimed to have spoken with a mysterious old man who told her to stay out of the backyard or she might get hurt.

Having recently had a traumatic few weeks during which my dog was kidnapped from this very back yard (and I had to kidnap him back), I confess I had jumped to an alarming conclusion: that this man might have been the father of WW, the guy who stole Blaze. WW lived in another state and, having recently been paroled, couldn't leave his state without going through a complicated permissions process. But what if his dad had decided to come here on his son's behalf? What if this was the beginning of a wave of terror?

In general, I love a mystery, but a mystery I can solve, you know? Not being able to confirm who this old guy was for certain was putting me in a bit of a state. So I had been grabbing every landscaping, lawn-mowing, shrub-pruning guy I could find and asking if they had an old man in overalls in their employ, someone who was maybe scouting our back yard, trying to drum up a little business trimming our hedges or limbing our trees. No one knew him, no one except the Brownie had seen him, and he certainly didn't match the description of any of our neighbors.

Come to think of it, he really didn't match the description of WW's father. The Brownie described the man she talked to as being very tall, and WW's dad was shorter than me by a good few inches, so I'd have put him at about 5-foot-7. Of course, to a little girl, that's tall.

And then, of course, I had to consider my source. The Brownie has an extremely active imagination. She talks to trees and flowers, as well as her bicycle, video game characters, and animals, stuffed and live. She's also a serious pretender, capable of imagining that, say, the giant bean bag in our family is actually my brother. And she'll maintain that conceit for hours, even days (as I'll discover when I go to sit down after dinner and she'll scream, "No Daddy! You'll sit on Uncle BB's tummy and make him go blurp!!"). Maybe this old farmer in overalls was just some Farmer Macgregor type conjured from a Beatrix Potter book and the Brownie and her fellow foxes were on the run from him.

In any event, as the week progressed, the Brownie didn't mention the man again, and nobody matching his description showed up on my property (I know because I set up my trusty wireless security cameras, the ones that came in so handy when I was under siege by my dogshit crazy neighbor). In fact, no one showed up in the back yard at all. Not even kids. As with my brother the beanbag, the Brownie was keeping up at least one pretense of her story: stay out of the back yard or you'll get hurt. How exactly someone was going to get hurt, she wasn't specific on, but Thomas became a true believer. For the rest of the week, he and the Brownie and their friends stayed in the front yard.

At least they did until Friday, when two of Thomas' friends came over for lunch. It wasn't too hot for a change, and so Her Lovely Self set out the kids' food on the table on our back porch, which is an elevated wooden deck just off the kitchen, commanding a view of the entire back yard. The Brownie hemmed and hawed and finally decided that eating lunch on the back porch wasn't the same as being out in the back yard, so she sat down to a nice lunch of cottage cheese and fresh fruit. Her Lovely Self was just pouring the lemonade, when she saw something moving out of the corner of her eye.

She looked up, just in time to watch that aspen tree fall right to the ground.


Afterwards, she told me it the oddest, most graceful thing she had ever seem. When 40-foot-tall trees topple, you expect to hear the CRACK of wood, to see the whirlwind rush of branches crashing through the air, to feel the earth shake as an object that weighs more than your car collapses to the ground.

But that's not what happened at all. Instead, the aspen just slowly leaned to the right and didn't so much fall as lie down. "It was like a giant invisible hand was gently turning it on its side," she said later. The only crack of wood was the slight snapping of two pickets on my neighbor's fence as a large branch broke them. The rest of the branches of the tree rustled a little--as if blown by a mild wind--before coming to rest on the raspberry bushes and vegetable garden right nearby.

The little area where the Brownie liked to have her picnics vanished. It was completely obscured by the trunk of the tree which, however gently it fell, turned my daughter's picnic spot into a gully of dirt. If she and her foxes had been sitting there when the tree went over, they would have been crushed to death.

And the scary part, as it turned out, was not that some stranger in my yard had apparently warned my daughter about this days earlier, it was that there was almost no way any man could have predicted this.

"I call these the handsome killers," said the tree surgeon, who came a few days to give us an estimate on grinding the stump and removing the brush. "There was absolutely no outward sign that this tree was going to fall." Then he explained to me that some trees will get sudden and fast-progressing diseases that affect some of the roots, but not all. Thus the tree will still get water and nutrients from the soil and look perfectly healthy, but meanwhile, the strongest roots, the very anchors of the tree itself, are already dead, leaving you with a handsome, half-ton pillar that with no warning could topple and destroy anything in its path.

I told the tree surgeon about the old man who had warned my daughter to stay out of the back yard. Granted, he hadn't told the Brownie that the tree was going to fall, but it was the obvious assumption to make. The tree surgeon shook his head and smiled. "Well, if that fella comes back, you give him my card. I'd hire him. He must have X-ray vision."

I've been cutting lumber since I was Thomas' age, so I set myself the task of limbing the tree and cutting it down to the stump. Not only would it save me a few hundred dollars, it was a good bit of exercise, especially for my injured wrist (just recently removed from its splint).


Besides, it's not often I get to use my chain saw, and there's just something wonderfully, ridiculously satisfying about propping yourself on a stump with your chainsaw and surveying your handiwork.


The Brownie watched thoughtfully from the back deck as her little picnic area became a rather bright, bare, open spot.





"Are you sad to see your tree go, honey?" I asked as I laid the branches into neat brush piles.

"No," she said, looking around the yard. "Foxo and I can always picnic over under play fort." She paused. "Daddy?" she asked.

"Yes?" I asked, getting back to my work.

"Do you think the man I saw was the bad man who had Blazey?"

I shook my head. I still thought he probably was some itinerant worker wandering through people's yards, looking to drum up work. It really happens all the time in our neighborhood. Indeed, over the two evenings it took me to finish my work on the tree, no less than three men ambled through and offered unsolicited estimates to do more tree or yard work on my property. Alas, none of them was an old man in overalls. I'd have given him the work. Hell, I'd have given him a drink for saving my daughter's life.

"Who do you think he was, honey?" I asked.

She shrugged. "I don't know." She paused. "God, maybe?"

I smiled and shrugged right back at her.

As I said before, I love a mystery.

While I prefer mysteries I can solve, I also know there are some mysteries you'll just never get to the root of.

And maybe that's exactly how it should be.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

That is a mystery... and cudos on a great story....
Of course, as a landscape architect... replace that tree as quickly as possible...
seriously go buy a good something, dig a hole and put it back now... don't wait, now is the time.
I've always believed in guardian angels... sounds like your little girl might have actually met hers.

thanks for another great story :)
They say children are in tune with the "other" side... same with animals...

glad to hear none of the kids were hurt!!
There's just something about that Brownie of yours. And I always love a story with her in it! =)
Dude. Wow.

I'm a very religious man, meaning that I have a powerful faith in G-d. And maybe this is just my wishful thinking. But I'll tell you that I was awestruck by the power of your report. I actually shook for a second or two, and I most certainly had to concentrate on the technique of breathing, as I found myself forgetting the part about exhaling.

Even if you want to think that the overall-clad gentleman might have been an actual transient, as your surgeon pointed out, there is no way on this green earth that the man would have had any clue that the tree was about to topple. No way.

Also, I like that G-d would wear overalls. I want to, but I don't have the courage to deal with the fashion police. But obviously G-d gets to dress as He chooses. And overalls are Mighty comfortable.
What an inspiring ending! So beautiful. I do believe God works in mysterious ways.
Great story! Is this incident related to the "strangely prophetic dream" of Brownie's that you refered to a few posts ago? Not that I really believe in that kind of thing, but still... she might have a geniune talent here. a) She knew someone took Blaze b) she had a prophetic dream c) she knew she would get hurt if she hung out in the backyard. That's a lot accurate foreshadowing for one little girl!
Hah! Nailed it.

Good story, but a little creepy. Have you tried showing the brownie pictures of dead relatives? Maybe she'll recognize someone....
love it... I hope you never find out who this person was, I prefer to think of him as a kindly, grandfatherly guardian angel.

noticed the punta gorda shirt, one of my FAVORITE vacation destinations, pre-hurricane.
I'm thinking a friendly ghost...
I'm also thinking The Brownie has a gaurdian angel. A sugar maple would look real pretty in that spot and it would grow fast.
It always is fun to use power tools, isn't it? Glad everything ended well even if you never uncover all the answers to the mystery.
I've heard it said the magnet does not fall too far from the tree :)
Maybe it was Saint Blaise??? I'm trying to think of a witty connection between throat-blessing and overalls... I guess if you're the patron saint of pets & animals, overalls would be handy...?
yeah there is something pretty special about Brownie. She is definitely more in tune (for lack of a better way of puttin it) to things than most people. I'm glad no one got hurt...that story is quite eerie. Kids do have angels. My son used to tell me about a Lady who watched him. He mentioned her from time to time but I never thought much of it until he was looking at some old pictures of my father at my parent's house and came across one of my dad's mother who died years before he was born. He pointed at the picture and said, "Grandpa knows the lady too!"
Great story. Great reminder of how our children are more protected than we realize.
If you ever do find a logical explanation for what transpired, don't post it on your blog. I don't want to be forced to stop reading it purely because I am no longer able to delight in the unexplainable.

Sometimes life is spectacular.

I am, of course, referring to the ability to pull out a chainsaw and use it with abandon.
The Brownie is in tune indeed! I like her thoughts on whom the man in overalls is. God does work in mysterious ways. I'd say a prayer or two are in order!
Did your Uncle David wear overalls? You said he was tall. He talked to dead people (I think) so since he is now deceased, maybe he communicated with Brownie.

Glad everyone is safe and sound.
Actually, despite dying a couple of times (he's had a few heart attacks) Uncle David--now in his 70s--has recovered from death each time and is, as we speak, up in Maine, fishing. It's true, he always talked to "haints"--his word for apparitions and suchlike--and he could dowse for water, but I've never known him to astrally project himself. I'll have to ask him about it when I see him--in the flesh--next week.

Good guess, though.
I told my friend about this, (she is a magnet,) and she told me it was probably the tree that talked to the Brownie. Yes, it sounds a little crazy, but you haven't met my friend, (who is not crazy.)
I go missing a few days and the brownie gets a chat witht GOD.

I can't say if I envy her or I am just plain jealous. :P
It's seems that sometimes children just have the ability to see God everywhere, they're also smart enough to listen when he speaks! What a great story. I have the chills!
and so we return to the ho-hum daily grind at the magazine mansion...

i'm sorry you lost your tree, and i'm glad that the brownie is okay.

was jennie among the foxes at the picnic?
Wow, there does seem to be compelling evidence of the Brownie having some fortune with precognition. As someone with a background in science, however, I'll need to keep watching this space for further data.

Oh, and, um, what does she have to say about lotto numbers? Just asking, for science, you know?
That is some crazy stuff, man. Ghost? God? Gaurdian angel? Creepy lawn guy sneaking around after all? She's one special girl...Glad all are safe in the end.
My first thought when I read the previous post was that it was the ghost of your grandfather, but, I really like the notion of it actually being the trees spirit.

Couldn't hurt to show her some old family photos and see if she recognizes anyone.
i second (more like fourth, fifth, sixth) the idea of family photos. they're good / important for her to see anyway, even if she doesn't recognize anyone. my vote is for ghost, and also that your daughter is somehow psychically gifted. i do think all people have a varying degree of psychic / extrasensory ability, and it sounds like she is probably above average.
wow...never seen a tree break off like that....
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