Oak to Elm

oak to elm

My coffee has grown cold.

Sitting here on my back porch, my morning cup of coffee at my lips, pretentiously reading poetry, thinking lofty thoughts of life and death, of this and that, and, finally, as thoughts wander mysteriously like cream in my coffee or a bee to a flower, whether I should cut down this tired old oak tree that towers above me, whose lower branches are sickly and bare to the sky.

After all, the old oak is too close to the house and likely to fall in the midst of a storm that is common to Kansas in spring and in fall. The girth of the trunk is two arm lengths around and twice the height of my two story brick home. From here any squirrel brave enough to climb to the top would be Yertle the Turtle, master of all that he saw. In the midst of the calm and at the moment the sun is rising over the top of the trees in the east, I hear a rustle above, two squirrels scrambling and chattering in the branches and leaves at the top of the tree. Putting my book down, I pause to watch. And when the two squirrels have run out of room on my tall oak tree that towers over me, they jump.

My God, I gasp, its 80 feet up. Higher than platform diving in the Olympics and no water below, just the earth and dirt and nothing to grab hold of but the tiniest of branches and leaves that wave in the wind.

Oblivious of life and death and what truly matters, they jump – from oak to elm. Wait, I say, the elm is in my neighbor’s yard and not as tall, though broader and leafier and healthier than the oak.

What do they wonder, what do they think, and why flee? Why leave oak for elm which has no nuts?

They answer, if squirrels could, …all squirrels are free to run and play wherever they choose. As squirrels should be, and maybe, all men should be.

Oh, an old man is a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick who wiles away the morning hours watching squirrels do their tricks. Alone, he sits and in between sips of coffee, says out loud to no one at all, when I was a boy I could climb the tallest tree, fearing nothing and master of all.