At the new house in Madison, the back yard was divided into a couple of sections with two wide swaths of grass bordered in-between by a row of pines, yews, and birch trees. One of these pines was old, tall, and stately, and from its branches, my father generously rigged up a tire swing for us "children" to play on--part of his plan to help acclimate us to the new house and neighborhood, I'm sure.
The branches of this lovely tree draped down from above in fragrant swoops of soft green boughs, creating a dark, shady oasis above soft needles, fallen leaves, and rabbit holes. It was a private place, where we could swing to our hearts' content in the afternoons, entering the worlds in our heads while surrounded by Nature's soothing sounds. Soft breezes singing through the trees, dappled sunshine just out of reach of the shady oasis, little songbirds flitting about, and the rich smell of dirt and leaves punctuated by a few purple irises popping up in the spring were my companions.
I was a sophomore in high school at the time, that awkward age when appearances matter and coolness is everything.
It was rare that my friends came to visit, but one evening I had a few people over, and we went out into the backyard to have some privacy from the parents and hang out smoking forbidden cigarettes under the trees. It was a mixed group, but mostly boys, so my attempts at coolness factor were cranked way up. We gravitated towards the tire swing, and when my turn came, I climbed in, hanging my legs through the middle and folding my arms across the top of the tire and around the rope.
My friends took turns pushing and I loved the feeling of spinning and flying through the air, laughing, and having a great time, until all of a sudden the tree branch broke and I was dumped to earth with a great crack and crash of wood, flailing rope, non-bouncing tire and me, limbs akimbo and all dignity quite vanquished as I tried to extricate myself from the downed rubber donut.
That did not feel glamorous. In fact it wiped the smile right off my face, in contrast to the jaw dropping, knee slapping, belly bending guffaws of my friends. It was one of those times, you know, when you have to sort of fake it, so I started grinning around my clenched teeth, rubbing my backside, and scuffing my toes around in the leaves once I regained an upright position.
Most times trees were my allies, but sometimes, not. This tall, old, stately pine was too fragile for our shenanigans, and though I loved her even though she thwumped me in front of my friends, I think it had more to do with our misunderstanding of her capabilities as the rope for the tire swing was set up and tied than any failure on her part. Or maybe she was suggesting I spend my time in other pursuits and leave her to her inherent dignity.... Perhaps, in a way, she was guarding me.