Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Memory of a Tree

I’ve never been much of a geography buff, so when I heard the word Transylvania it seemed like a mystical, mythical place to me.

In the world before googling, it was hard to conceive that my little farmstead in rural Ohio could actually be associated with anything or anyone from that far off, slightly ominous sounding place, but it was.

One morning shortly after we moved in, I went outside and was surprised to discover an ancient little man sitting on the rickety porch swing hanging from an enormous tree in front of the old house. The swing had been one of the delights that had helped entice us into purchasing the rundown old farmstead.

We’d already encountered a few surprise visitors since we’d moved into the old farmhouse so I had no hesitation in approaching him. “Can I help you?” I asked.

He enquired about the previous owner, and I told him that the gentleman who had lived there had passed away and we had just purchased the house.

He nodded his freckled, balding head and closed his wrinkled, parchment eyelids for a moment.

“I thought that might have happened. He was a good man.”

I observed a moment of silence with him in memoriam.

“Is there anything I can help you with, sir?” I eventually continued.

“No, no, not really,” he replied after a long pause. “I just like to come here and sit under this old tree sometimes.”

Torn between wanting to be polite but also wanting to get started on my very long list of chores, I finally suggested he just sit as long as he wanted. I offered him a cup of coffee. He declined. Finally I held out my hand and introduced myself. “I’m Jenny,” I said, “Come and sit under the tree whenever you like.”

Instead of shaking my hand and releasing it, he held on. His hand seemed frail and gnarled, its paper-skinned surface road mapped with veins and age spots, but his grip was firm.

“You know,” he said, “I would like some of that coffee after all and then I want to tell you about this tree.”

I filled mugs in the kitchen… cream and sugar for me – black for him, please… and rejoined him on the swing.

We sat and sipped and rocked for a bit and then he told me a story of two brothers who came to the United States from Transylvania.

“It was a long, long time ago. Maybe 1811, 1812. They were Saxons, you know, and every good Saxon has to be around a Carpathian walnut tree so they don’t get homesick. They each carried a seedling under their coats. One seedling died. The other travelled all the way across the country. The brothers took turns watering the surviving seedling and keeping it safe. Finally after months and months of travel the brothers discovered this ground. Virgin ground with deep, black topsoil and before they even built this old farmhouse they planted the seedling.”

He took a few sips of his now cooling coffee. I filed away the odd names in my head…Transylvania, Saxons, Carpathian Walnut.

Pointing down the hill he continued, “There’s a spring over that little hill and the brothers watered this little seedling every day. Every day. And finally the tree started to grow.”

I tipped my head back and looked up into the vast spreading boughs . I looked at the immense trunk and remembered my amazement when we were looking at the property for purchase that my three small children and I could not circle the girth of the tree with our joined hands.

I had no idea if his story was true but it captured my imagination and my heart. It seemed fanciful to imagine a tiny seedling carried and protected on a treacherous journey across ocean and land.

Each time I went in and out of the house I would look at the tree.

I don’t think I had ever seen a tree quite as majestic.

I watched it through several seasons…enjoying the sculptural branches in the winter and the delicious thin shelled walnuts each autumn.

Once in awhile, I would see the old man outside, sitting and rocking.

Sometimes I would talk to him, sometimes I would simply wave.

One summer day there was a knock on the porch door.

I opened it to find three gentleman in short-sleeved blue shirts. One held a clipboard. All had little name badges on.

“Are you the owner of this property?” Mr. Clipboard enquired.

“Yes, and you are?”

“We’re with the Horticultural Department at Ohio State University. We’re measuring some of the rarer, non-native trees in the state to approximate how old they are. You have several trees on your property.” He pointed toward the lovely walnut tree. “This tree is a Carpathian Walnut tree. This genus is native to Transvylania. Would it be okay if we take some measurements?”

I was fascinated.

I watched them measure the trunk and set up some odd little surveyors tools in the yard to estimate the height of the tree.

They then repeated the process with an ugly and unusual, skyscraper-high pine tree at the edge of the driveway.

They told me about the pine tree. I can’t actually remember what they said. That tree had never been a favorite of mine…and I had certainly never gotten dreamy eyed over the tale of how it got there.

Then they told me about the walnut tree. “We estimate this tree to have been planted between 1800 and 1815 based on growth patterns in other trees in the state we’ve measured. The family that settled this farm was most likely Saxon. So far we’ve found two slightly bigger specimens in the state but this is certainly a beautiful tree, enjoy it.”

They gave me a business card, shook my hand and took their leave.

I was a little surprised.

What I thought was a legend was actually a true story.

I waited anxiously for the little old man to come and visit so I could tell him what I had learned.

He never came again.

But I suspect even if I would have told him, he would not have been surprised.

I can hear his voice in my memory, “Two Saxon brothers came from Transylvania…”

And I can still imagine the scene in my mind, “…and they each carried a Carpathian Walnut seedling under their coats.”

This post is linked to Alphabe-Thursday in honor of the letter C. To read other C posts, just
click here.

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Slamdunk said...

Whoa Jenny--thanks for sharing this magical story. I love knowing the story behind what appears to be the simple.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderfully magical tale!

Viki said...

Great story. Are you sure he didn't try to bite your neck LOL.

Pat said...

I lingered over each word...
a wonderful story indeed...your Carpathian Walnut represents strength and hope, not only for the two brothers but for generations to come...

So good!!

Susan Anderson said...

This would have done more than capture my imagination. It would have fed it for years!

I LOVE trees...and a tree with a story like that one represents the height of tree-loverishness.

Ah, Jenny. You made my day with this one...I'm going to go read it again.


anitamombanita said...

True or not, that was an amazing story and impeccably told. Loved it!!!

To the Toy Box and Beyond said...

What a great story. You sure have a way with words I love reading your blog

Nezzy (Cow Patty Surprise) said...

What a wonderful legacy you can give your grandchildren with the history of this beautiful Transylvanian tree.

I so enjoyed this sweetie.

God bless and enjoy this wonderful day!!! :o)

Adura Ojo said...

Trees have long memories; meaningful and most of it beautiful. It helps too that they almost always outlive us and pass on our fingerprints to the next generation and the one after that, and so our life thread goes on.

Leovi said...

Wonderful and touching story of that tree. If trees could, we could talk to your version. Greetings.

Ms. A said...

What an amazing story, Jenny. Then again, you never cease to amaze me.

Unknown said...

I love this story that the old little man with his parchment eyelids told!

Jo said...

what a beautiful little story! well done Jenny! You took me away to the shade of the Carpathian Walnut tree.

Unknown said...

Your story had me mesmerized from beginning to end! Loved every bit of it!

Maude Lynn said...

What an amazing story!

Holly Lefevre said...

Every time I read one of your amazing stories, I am left longing for more. I love this story. It put a little smile on my face, took me to a new place, and sent a small wave of chills up my spine.

Allie said...

Tell me another story, tell me, tell me, tell me!!!

H said...

I think this is the best one of yours that I've read. Delightful story; moving without being sentimental, little edge of mystery about the identity of the old man, tangent sense of continuity with the past. A good read to begin the new day. Thank you :)

Gattina said...

I don't know this story, I only know Transilvania because it was the home of Count Dracula !! I think today there are guided tours to his castle !!

Julie Kwiatkowski Schuler said...

I love this story! It has a scent of magical realism that I can't resist.

Betty said...

What a wonderful story. I'd love to live in a place with some history.

EG CameraGirl said...

Wonderful story, Jenny! Now I'm off to Google Carpathian walnuts. :)

Unknown said...

Wow! What an amazing story behind that tree! It makes me wonder if that man who told you the story is somehow related to the brothers that came from Transylvania. I'm glad that you found out about the story behind the tree though! It's as if the history behind it is being passed down to you and from you to us :)

Busy Bee Suz said...

This is SO darn cool. Thanks for sharing Jenny!

cj Schlottman said...

Thanks for this wonderful story, Jenny. It's a great one for Thanksgiving , and as usual, your way with words makes it extra special.

Happy Turkey Day,

Steph said...