I am the tree fort
THE SHIRE SITS mid-mountain on the rise, home to my sweet hobbit parents. It’s there in the woods where I learned to make camp, play house, and build four walls with my imagination into any space available. A giant evergreen grows in front, jutting out from the ridge. It used to scare me in its immenseness until I slid down to its base and found it a sanctuary, a place just away, a fort to spy from. Like a monkey, I’d dangle from its low swinging branches. It was a perfect rain shelter and the most darling of hiding spots. As the oldest sibling, I was eternally bossy, like a mother to three when they entered my realm. I lived there. Queen of the forest. I’d lay fallen branches out as a bed after another rather bristly branch had been used to sweep the forest floor space. I was Wendy in my Neverland, the tree my forest home.
I’d reluctantly re-enter the house after a long day outside after I heard mom’s whistle call and “woo-hoo” that said it was time to come in for dinner. I smelled of pine and fresh dirt, the kind of smells people pay for in candles and car fresheners. A wood nymph, I somehow belonged to the woods where I’d hang my doll’s laundry to dry, where I’d swing and climb and create, where I lay and dream just outside of the rain’s reach.
This is where I ran when life felt hard. The branches held out like wingspans, like the scene in Bambi when the bird runs from the drip drip drops of the April shower, arms spread, wings over her little crew.
I always knew that I wanted to be a mother, to keep house, to build and dream and plan. It was in my blood to nurture little ones, to teach them to watch the seasons, the weather, the world as it turns on its axis. I would whisper hope as they listened to the wind. With love I would sing them to sleep. I knew this. I could see it.
I started babysitting the neighbor kids when I was eleven. The youngest was sick a lot, always sniffling, often crying, wanting Mama. I sang then. Tucked in, whispered, rocked, prayed over children as they fell asleep. I babysat until I was old enough to call it nannying. People would pay me to play, to clean, to cook, to listen to kids as they chattered about life’s daily discoveries. I loved it. It felt like preparation for my own. I often pictured my future life of kids and minivans, sports and snacks.
In college, I struggled to find a major since I had it in my head that I knew my calling. Education felt comfortable to a degree, terrifying to another. As a perfectionist and people pleaser, I worked hard to succeed even though I couldn’t see it. It took some time to feel it sink in. It felt odd, like the first time I tried to make mac & cheese. I failed and made Cheetos, cried, and tried again. That’s what teaching feels like for the first three years. It’s Cheetos and tears. Then somehow the colleagues who see you and admin who trust you and kids who laugh at your jokes finally become the people you want to be around. I have always liked people. The more the merrier, and yes we have stringent objectives and standards to meet and master, but I’ve learned that every day can be a party if you make it one. Every day holds possibility. Every student has a story worth hearing. And some may just be the Peter Pans to my Wendy heart.
I spend days sewing shadows back on to boys who have lost them. It feels like timely work, and purposeful. It feels motherly. It also feels pretend, like building a home in the branches with my house still in sight.
All along I thought I was the bird in the tree. Waiting. Ruffling feathers. Avoiding the rain just beyond the branches.
What I never knew was that all of that time whispering and singing, scrubbing and sewing, that I was growing branches. That I was becoming the tree.
I pray that others may find shelter in me, a place to dream, to escape the rain that trickles down branches still glistening.
Stephanie Platter is a teacher, writer, film critic, and coffee lover who senses that spring is coming to lift the burden of recent snows that tend to weigh heavily on branches reaching up in silent, heavenward surrender.