I had not intended to climb a tree in the middle of campus in broad daylight. A middle-aged woman working in the research department isn’t typically spotted in a tree wearing work clothes, sans shoes. And yet one day, my mind was so tortured with meaningless work in a windowless room, that to climb a tree, spotted or not, seemed the only sane thing to do.
Sanity was the ultimate goal, and then perhaps bliss and rapture, a simple state of contentment, of happiness. But in the beginning, I sought solace, a companion in the darkness. The tree called and I climbed.
Before you imagine a lunatic, know that this tree was discrete. An elephant skinned variety, with grey wrinkled skin, bark too rough a word for this strokeable surface. Tendrils thick with teardrop leaves hung deep to the earth creating a canopy that all but concealed the trunk. Weeping willowlike, no. This creature bore thick, climbable branches inviting me to hold onto knobs and twists and reach upward into the thick so as to be hidden to all save the nest of squirrels high to the northern rim.
I found it in the summer, when the students still scooped ice cream at the Hot and Cold, or shoveled mulch or glued their souls to their machinery. In these warm days I hurried round the quad, my eye on the distant tree, my tree as I now called it, and slipped under the canopy with hardly a glance up or down the sidewalk. Still recovering from a broken arm, I was careful with my climb, unprepared to fall from the tree, slither out or be found face down having to explain myself and give up my hideaway. I took to choosing clothes each morning measuring their ability to blend. The bark was grey, the leaves fresh salad green and, given my isolation at work, I could wear the grey pants three out of five days and not a human soul would notice.
Five minutes would service my soul. My goals were simple, stay concealed, enter and leave without notice, pay attention to the sky, the sounds, the skin and promise to come back every day. Weather would not prevent me. Five minutes from the screen, the bent forward posture that ached my wrists and shoulders, five minutes from the monotonous sameness of the workday could be my salvation.