My Pine Tree
A "Pictures Into Words" writing prompt
My mother wrote this piece in a 2011 Korongo workshop called “Pictures Into Words.” The idea for the workshop came to me as I was puzzling over unidentified family photographs from the early 1900s. Who? What? Where? I would never know the answers, because everybody who could have told me was dead. The eight women who attended the 2011 workshop brought a dozen family photographs with them, and we spent eight sessions writing little essays about them. As they wrote, Patrick was busy in the back of the gallery, turning their essays into books that he printed on a desktop printer, cut, and stapled by hand. Everybody left the workshop with several copies of her own essay collection in the form of a lovely little handmade book. Et voila: Pictures into words. The pine tree that my mother wrote about appears in many family photograph, but I had no idea how much that tree meant to her until she wrote about it.
My Pine Tree
The picture shows a not unusual pine tree after a snowstorm. Although the camera is focused on that tree, a bare, deciduous tree also shows. Some sort of structure stands at its base. It so happens that I know the structure is a swing, located where in summer it gets shade. It’s the kind of swing often seen on lawns or in flower gardens, with two seats facing each other. Someone seated in the swing can activate it by pushing on the platform under one’s feet.
But it’s the pine tree that figures large in my memory of growing up in our farm home in Randolph Center. When I think of my childhood home I always think of that tree. It stood close enough to the windows of the bedroom where Ruth and I slept that we could hear the sounds it made. Creaks and groans meant a storm was in progress. The view from the window confirmed what the tree was telling us. The tree told us when it was raining by letting us hear the drops as they fell to the driveway below. Furthermore, during a rainstorm the tree released a delightfully soothing woodsy smell. A whispery whish, whish meant a gentle breeze. No sound at all meant different things in different seasons. In winter it meant a snowstorm, just snow falling gently, because a windy blizzard caused the tree to shriek in agony. In summer absolute quiet meant sultry heat, perhaps the forerunner of a thunder storm. Lying in bed at night when the windows were open the quiet whispering of the pine tree made me feel cozy and content as sleep took over.
My tree had other uses as well. It served as a boundary or goal in many a childhood game, when all my siblings, our cousins, and visiting friends would get together in the long summer evenings. It also helped to identify our house for would-be visitors. Ours was the house with the big pine tree in front.
Sometimes the tree could turn downright unfriendly. Drivers who wanted to go from the road to our driveway had to negotiate a sharp curve and slight rise, missing the pine tree that stood perilously close to the driveway. In fact, its roots were sometimes exposed, making the turn extra tricky until Dad did some repair work with a load of gravel. In winter that curve often became icy, creating a different kind of a challenge.
That tree stood until long after I became an adult. After our farm had been sold to new owners, my pine tree was struck by lightning and injured so badly that it had to be taken down. I often pass by my old home and I miss my pine tree. —Idora Cooley Tucker
Photograph a tree. Draw a picture of a tree. Write about a tree. Not just any tree, but your tree. Show us the tree in different seasons. If you don’t know what to say about your tree, try writing a letter to your tree. Say thank you. Thank you for what? You’ll figure it out. Or write the tree’s letter to you. What would the tree say if trees could talk. (What, you don’t think trees can talk? Listen harder.)
More Writing Prompts
Download the complete volume of our "Homebound Diaries" anthology for a collection of writing and artwork by the people of Vermont's White River Valley. Their writing inspired the exercises found here.