As a little child with a big imagination, in a big world full of noise and stimulation, I always sought a quiet place to think. A quiet place of roots, leaves, branches and shady hiding places.
In all of my growing up places, I would seek out my thinking tree far from the voices, faces and florescent lights. I didn’t know why I wanted a hiding place, I just knew that I needed a hiding place.
The modern world was so harsh, the sound of TV, the chatter of neighbors and the buzz of the fridge, the glare on the glass – it was all too much for me, I couldn’t think. When I was surrounded by nature, everything was clear, and my imagination would come alive.
When I was sitting at my desk in school my brain would shut down to cope with the noise and lights. Only doodleing could bring it back – but most of my teachers would scold me for day-dreaming and doodling.
Nature was a quiet whisper, a soft song in a world that wouldn’t stop screaming in my ears. I wasn’t hiding from people, I loved my family, I just needed to think and play with stones and twigs… for hours. I was only five or six, and no one new I was a child with Asperger’s and no one knew what was going on inside my head.
I would find my peace among the shadows where only an occasional ray of sunlight would find me there. When I was very young my thinking tree was a huge oak tree, my sisters would climb the tree, but for years I was afraid. They nailed unsturdy planks of wood to the wide trunk. It was a treacherous climb to a place of mystery, far above my head. And i was content to keep my feet on the ground – though I was puzzled by my reputation as a “Girl with her head in the clouds”. Well, my sisters built a tree house, and eventually abandoned it, calling it dangerous. Sometimes, when they were at school I would climb the first three rungs over and over and over, trying to stir up a little courage, only to return to the roots, then for hours I would play, think and imagine worlds among the roots.
The roots of the oak tree would twist and turn and form little caves all around the base of my tree. I would dig away the dirt and leaves and then build houses and villages for the tiny creatures who lives beneath the canopy of leaves. I would form tiny chairs, beds, tables, and kitchens for my creatures. I didn’t know if they were fairies or mice but in the night they would come, they would have grand parties, and eat all the tiny delicacies I places upon their tiny tables.
At night, I would tell my little sister on the bottom bunk the stories of the creatures who awoke in the night to visit my village, under the thinking tree. I wanted her to come with me at midnight to spy on the fairies, or the mice, but she was afraid. The tree was on our property line, in the farthest corner of the backyard dividing your yard from an ancient cemetery. I didn’t think it was creepy, but it seemed to keep my little sister and the neighborhood kids away from my play place. I once told my older sisters about my village among the roots, and they giggled and told me that my fairies were actually cockroaches, and nothing more. I smiled at the thought and wasn’t sure if I should be amused or disgusted at the thought of grand cockroach parties at midnight.
When I was eleven we moved to Ohio, I loved the 100 year old house, and the tiny wooded hillside behind it. The day we arrived I disappeared into the backyard to find a new thinking tree. There was no grand oak tree there, just some scrawny apple trees, some pines, and a pussy willow tree with low branches made for climbing. There were no winding roots or secret villages in the shadows, but I had learned to read, and I found a perch of imagination in the thinking tree, as I climbed up into the branches I entered the portal to Narnia.
It was only one year later that we moved to the little red house by the river. All around my home was a forest, I could travel deep into the forest with my dog, and explore away the hours of the day. It was months before I found my thinking tree, there were so many trees and none seemed more special than the others until Autumn came, and the maple came alive like a fire, red, orange and yellow – just a stones throw from my bedroom window. Every morning I would first look out at the changing colors, and in the late afternoon I would gather stones, building villages once again under the tree.
My friends would often visit me under the thinking tree…one dog, three cats, four kittens and a turtle. The shy chipmunks and squirrels would only visit my village when I was away – I could see them from the window. They were the characters of my Narnia.
During my early teen years we moved to yet another house, with a perfect acre of woods. When I was 14 I found the courage to make my perch as close to the clouds as I could get. I had begun homeschooling and would always take my schoolwork into the woods with me. My thinking tree was a tall pine, I had to wear a winter coat year round to climb it without pain. My place in the tree top was the only place I could go to be alone in a busy family of six, and a neighborhood full of noisy kids who would often play their games in my woods. I could see all the houses on our street from prickly perch, but no one could see me me high in my thinking tree, and no one would follow me there. The pine tree was the last tree of my childhood. There is nothing like a love song to lull a girl out of her world above the trees …
I no longer climb my thinking trees, but I do find peace in drawing them. The worlds that I imagined under the roots as a child come alive again whenever I touch my pen to paper.