Welcome back to Free Fall Friday!
For this week’s prompt, study the photograph, and then respond in one of two ways.
1. Write one page, starting with the words: The tree was much taller than ______
2. Write a one page response in which you instruct one of your characters to climb this tree. Choose a character you are struggling with. Once they are in the tree, throw rocks at them. How they react will reveal their character.
The story behind the photograph and prompt:
The photograph used for this week’s prompt was taken in Boise, Idaho, where this particular tree has special meaning for me and my twin nieces.
We first discovered the tree on one of our walks to 13th Street for an early morning discussion over breakfast at Moxie Java. (Okay, I also go for their famous oatmeal with banana slices and foamed milk on top. And the lattes.)
My nieces—at the time eight years old—were fascinated by how the bark peeled off the tree and fell onto the ground like a snake’s skin.
While the girls gathered fallen bark from the base of the trunk—and I kept the dog from chasing after cats and squirrels—we had our first conversations about my sister. She had just been diagnosed with cancer and was in treatment for the disease. The girls had been quiet about their feelings.
After I showed them how to create shapes, they squatted on the ground, shifting various sizes of bark on the sidewalk. And while the bark transformed into horses and dogs, we began to talk. About our fears. Our dreams. Our hopes. We discussed how the body ridding itself of cancer was like the tree shedding its bark.
This tree was a segue to emotion healing for my nieces. And whenever I visit them, one of the first things we do is to take a walk. The three of us, plus my sister, head to 13th street, and on the way, we visit this tree. I pat the bark for luck, mindful of the journey we experienced last year.
I love trees. They represent strength and resilience, like my father, who gave me this writing exercise. I was stuck at the time and when I called for advice, he simply said, “Put Savannah in a tree and throw rocks at her.” Throwing rocks at someone I love, albeit one of my characters, seemed cruel. But I listened to him, and in the process discovered my character’s strengths. How in the face of adversity, she clings to hope. She reaches out to others and ends up not only helping them, unconsciously, but also finds her own inner strength to go on.
When I have my own struggles, I think of Savannah’s story. What she goes through. What she longs for. And always, her story inspires me to move forward.
Here is a snippet of the tree exercise written over three years ago.
I tell her to climb. Climb to the highest point of the oak tree.
Savannah’s arms wrap around the tree trunk in a hug. Her face leans against the bark.
“You must climb,” I tell her.
“Why? Why are you making me do this?”
Unable to look into her eyes, I watch a squirrel collect acorns.
“I’ve never climbed a tree before,” Savannah says. “I don’t know if I can.”
Please . . . just do it.”
She lifts a leg over the lowest branch, hoists her body up, and begins her ascent. Five feet up. Ten feet up. Fifteen feet up. Branches shake above my head, and now, only her legs can be seen. The bottoms of her sneakers are worn. A dirty shoelace dangles, untied.
“Have you reached the top?” I ask.
“I’m scared. It’s high up here. Please let me come down!”
“You can’t. Not yet.”
Bending over, I pick up the first rock. No more than five inches. I toss it between my hands. She is crying now. Crying from the top of the tree. I swing my arm back and do as my father instructed. I pitch the rock, hard and fast, at Savannah.
Whack! It hits the trunk.
“What are you doing?” she calls down to me.
Second rock. Larger now. Eight inches. Arm back. Pitch forward and up.
“Ouch! You hit me. You hit me with a rock!”
Third rock. Ten inches. Arm back. Pitch forward and up.
“Stop that!” she says, crying.
“Make me,” I tell her.
Fourth rock. Fifth rock. Sixth. Whack! Whack! Whack!
Now, I throw the rocks faster in succession. “You can’t fix her.”
“You can’t fix your mother,” I say when the tenth rock flies in her direction.
The branch she clings to shakes. She is shaking it. Snap! Something breaks.
“Don’t tell me what to do!” she throws the piece of broken branch at me. “I can believe if I want. Momma took care of me. Always. And I don’t care what you say. I’m not giving up on Momma. You can if you want.” Another branch hits me.
I stand beneath her with four rocks in my hand. Smaller rocks. Rocks that won’t hurt her as much. I wonder if she speaks the truth. Had I given up on her mother? Was I not listening to Savannah, to what she wanted to tell me?
The rustling in the tree subsides.
“You may climb down now,” I tell her.
“No,” she says, “I like it up here. And I’m staying here until I’m ready.”
The rocks fall from my hands and hit the ground with a clunk! Clunk!
“Tell me when you’re ready,” I say.
“To tell me the rest of your story. The way it needs to be told.”
She sends a leave swirling from the top of the tree. As it falls into my cupped hands, I look in her direction and smile.