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by Patricia Morris
I live under the canopy of a grandmother valley oak. It grows in what is now called “my neighbor’s yard,” due to the way we white settlers swept through this what-is-now-called a nation over the past 300 years and took over everything. Massacred people who were living here, infected them with deadly diseases, tried to re-make them in our image. Declared that we “owned” the land, bought and sold it; built structures to live in, structures that got bigger and more permanent as time passed; built fences to delineate MINE.
But before all this, there was the valley oak. Like all oaks, it began as an acorn, scrunched into the dirt next to a small seasonal creek. Its roots sank deeper each year, reaching for the water. Its mycorrhizal fungi spread wide, linking fingers with the grandfather sycamore nearby, and the great buckeye at the deeper part of the creek. They grew up together sharing food; sharing information; sharing tenants such as woodpeckers, scrub jays, red-shouldered hawks, squirrels, and woodrats.
The grandmother oak watched placidly as the Coast Miwok women gathered its acorns, ground them into mush, and fed them to their families; as the Spanish and then the white folks pushed in and planted crops and orchards, grazed cattle and sheep; as roads were laid down and houses sprang up, displacing meadows and pastures.
Fifty-one years ago what I call “my house” was built beside the oak out of dead redwood trees. The oak, by this time the oldest living being in the area, grew protective of this redwood structure, and even of the humans within it, despite all the destruction they wrought. I’ve had no doubt, since first setting foot on what I now call “my lot,” that the tree is protecting me and sending me love. Its ever-expanding canopy of leaves covers over two-thirds of my house in the summer, keeping it cool on even the hottest days. In the autumn, as its acorns hit the roof, the deck, sometimes even my head, like small exploding artillery shells, I give thanks and gratitude for the way it shares its abundance.
On a cold, dark winter night, silver stars glitter through the outline of the oak’s bare black branches, its ancient arms reaching to the cosmos. My tiny form sits in a tub of hot bubbling water. Boundaries between me, tree, and twinkling stars dissolve into emptiness.
* fungus which grows in association with the roots of a plant in a symbiotic or mildly pathogenic relationship. Oxford English Dictionary
Patricia Morris lives under the trees in Northern California and writes on Monday nights at Jumpstart Writing Workshops. She dates her love of stories to being read to while sitting on the lap of her Great-Aunt Ruth, a children’s librarian. Her writing has appeared in Rand McNally’s Vacation America, the Ultimate Road Atlas and The Write Spot anthologies Possibilities and Musings and Ravings From a Pandemic Year, edited by Marlene Cullen.