Children swung from her branches, laughing, yelling, calling, pushing. See who can climb to the highest branches first.Who has the strongest arms? Who can weave between the smaller branches better? One was climbing with the aid of a grappling hook, wrapped it around a hefty branch, dropped the rope down to the younger ones. They climb up the twitching string.
One slips, tumbles backwards, falls through a gap in her branches, snagging only on leaves and whispy tendrils too young to be called branches. She wishes she could sway her arms to cradle his falling form, but she cannot, at her age even the wind scarcely moves her thick limbs. He falls, the rope before him, the yells of children haunting her.
She’s seen this before as a middle aged tree, a circle of men talking, one man holding another bound in ropes. Luck of the draw, and they come to her with a rope coiled in their hands. Pick a branch up high, tie it off. She’s got a bad feeling about this. They put the man on a horse bareback, slip his neck through a loop of the rope, then slap the horse into running away. They leave, after time they come back with another. More time, then another. She didn’t count how many
By the luck of the draw, she’d been known as the Old Hanging Tree. With those days gone, she was determined to not remember them ever again, but now here was this boy tumbling, falling, reaching, a rope tied to her branches, and her heart breaks. It’s all over in a second, just as before.
He catches the rope, bounces his feet off her trunk, laughs, and sits on her sturdy arm, cradling her trunk with one hand, the rope held in the other. The children call out, then some laugh and some are angry. But they don’t leave the shelter of her leaves. Those days are gone, and these days are to stay.