Words by Danielle Dillenschneider
The magnolia trees of my home are regal in every season—in the fall when their berries fall out of the pods like rubies, through the winter when the snow laden emerald leaves hold strong through the cold. Yet I always preferred late May—the majestic trees lined our grandiose yard, filling it with the sweet aroma of magnolia blossoms. They ever are my favorite feature.
As a child I ran to the trees, seeking blossoms with fine golden powder that collected in the strong, white glistening petals. To smell them was to be revived from the tediousness of fractions and spelling. Seven trees lined our front field, and I searched beneath each to see what blossoms might have fallen to the ground. I searched until I found the perfect blooms; just two consumed my small limbs, yet even as they stifled my ability to run, they were as close to a treasure as I had ever seen. Inside the pearly petals lay a jade amulet, studded with gold and garnet; emerald leaves had underbellies plated with gold—a living treasure! I stored them at the foot of my favorite magnolia tree, delicately laying them in its shade as offerings on an altar. I did so ceremoniously, that the aroma might burn like incense, that such reverence would bid me good fortune on my next adventure. Then I moved from the exploration beneath the trees to ascend the magnolia.
Of all the trees my yard contained, this tree alone was perfect for climbing. Its low-lying limbs formed a portal of childhood, and I took hold of its branches as if they were ushering me into its sanctuary. Sanctuary—if I have ever experienced such a feeling, I felt it first there. I pulled myself to the first branch of the light brown tree ridden with pale green lichen. The light scattered as it broke through the leaves, leaving speckled shadows within. It’s hard to believe that on such a hot afternoon one could find such a dim, mildly lit place—an oasis of shade. The first low branch was the easiest to mount; once sitting, above and to the right was a branch fortified enough for me to pull myself up to a standing position. The wide-reaching boughs were ideal for pursuing to their end.
Who could resist the thrill of exploration, of conquering new heights? Such a desire drove me up, unthinking, simply moving and sensing what limb was best. Something within guided me, pushed me on. I grabbed the limb to the left and pushed against the tree trunk with my legs to pull myself up. In a spiral I ascended up towards the heavens—what I longed to reach I still do not know—but I went on only to see, to know some height yet attained, and I was on my way successfully—until my feet missed their step.
I hung there high up in the limbs by my skinny arms, feet flailing, eyes blinded by the flaking lichen in my eyes. Time slowed down. A breeze blew strong in the midst of that hot afternoon. It told me to breathe. So I did, suspended in air, knowing that although it felt like I would be lost to that tree and found painfully on the ground, I would not fall. I clung to the limb with my eyelids closed tight and inched blindly back towards the trunk.
I steadied myself at the center and cleared my eyes to open them at a height I had not yet paused to marvel at. I pulled myself once more onto that upper limb with determination and warily stepped to the end of it like a balance beam, ever shaking, heart racing, until the leaves came to a thick. I breathed deep, paused, and peered out through the opening of leaves like a window, not to see my house, but my neighbor’s farm—the tomatoes ripe to be picked and the rows of crops green, flourishing. A new world, a veritable Eden.
Through all my foolishness and stubbornness, the sight was well more valuable to my small mind than any gathered treasure. There was a beauty in that moment, a beauty of triumph, of solitude—shielded and held strong by a tree that possessed infinite treasure and fortitude. Through this tree I saw the world, and I think I still do.