There are always things upon one looks back and considers very grounding in their life. These are the things that prove to be constant, unmoving, unchanging — sort of like those good, dear friends that despite the passing of so many years, once you are with them again, it’s as if no time has passed at all.
I have been visiting the same campground along Lake Limestone in central Texas for over a decade. It’s been a wonderful place for mental decompression, a rallying point for friends, a fertile ground for jawing existential issues of life, and a place that one can drink wine and beer, eat well, and pass out till morning — and start all over again.
At the far end of this campground is a small wooden dock along a quiet field at the lake’s shore. I found myself from that very first visit, often sitting on this dock, staring out across the lake enjoying the silence — usually with my doberman “son” Beauregard sitting next to me. All the noise of the camping revelers, all the angst of self-employment, all the hectic pace of the city quickly faded away allowing my mind to just think — or not at all think.
From this heat-cracked dock, one cannot miss the tall, prominent tree that breaks the surface of the lake’s water and reaches up toward the sky. The irony is that while this tree appears strong and powerful, it’s dead — and has been quite dead for longer than the decade I have visited it. Somehow its lifeless, weathered and sun-bleached trunk and limbs seem to be even more empowered by its death. Without living leaves it doesn’t sway in the wind, without sap coursing through its veins it’s more rigid — as if it is made of rock rather than wood.
Year after year, the tree remains virtually unchanged — seemingly frozen in time. Such is not the case for me, its eduring admirer over the years. The Old Dead Tree has watched me grow older, it watched my young doberman, Beauregard, run to his heart’s content in the adjacent field, it watched a large group of friends that once accompanied me to the campground dwindle to only a few die-hard camp-goers, it has listened to my thoughts of bliss and worry, it watched Beauregard run his last time in the field before that horrible August that Beau departed this thing called life, and it watched me bring Beau back to the campground for his last visit in his final resting box. This same tree also watched as a new doberman puppy, Titus, got bowled over by his elder brother Bentley while playing in that same field a few months later.
The campground isn’t quite the same any more. Fewer people visit, the lake is now non-existent due to horrible summer droughts over the past few years in Texas, and as friends grow older, camping just doesn’t seem quite as relaxing as it once did. I don’t go at all as often as I once did either.
Last weekend I was struck by the fact that the Old Dead Tree no longer was surrounded by water, but instead it rose from a dry, cracked, brushy field. I also noticed that the tree had an out-of-place flower arrangement around its upper trunk. A cascade of sunflowers hung from the Old Dead Tree’s neck. It now seemed more like a memorial to me than a dear old friend. For the first time the Old Dead Tree seemed … well, actually dead.