The Old Tree By Michael Casper Along North Sea Mecox Rd. in Southampton, between David White’s Lane and Long Springs Rd., stands a tree. I am not sure how many of the cars whizzing by, trying to bypass the traffic jams on the highway, are aware that it is there. This is not a tree that expands its branches to create a canopy of green that begs someone to lie underneath and stare through the leaves at the blue sky above. Rather, it is a tree that, if noticed, might be described using words such as eyesore, fire hazard, old stump, or the rather ordinary, but accurate term of ugly. Some might consider that mean, but to me, a tree does not manage to attain that kind of ugliness without a sense of strength. A weaker tree might have fallen long ago, tipped over by a mighty storm, or weakened by a fire during a dry season. This tree has managed to stay standing, bare and mostly branchless, but still standing. This tree has earned its ugliness. Every time I drive by, I always look at that tree. Sometimes it is a quick glance and sometimes I look for it as soon as it comes into view. What is it about that tree that fascinates me? Why does it spark my imagination the way a great book or a fine painting might? Not that all of my thoughts are fanciful. As someone approaching fifty, there are practical considerations, such as “I hope that tree doesn’t come down on a car during a storm.” The tree can also be a good land mark for visitors, “My street is the first one on the left, past the old tree.” However, this bleak, twisted, figure usually invites more wonder than every day concerns for me. Was the tree there when the Shinnecocks would stealthily walk by hunting game? Was it happy to be amongst all the farmland that would have surrounded it? Was it upset to see the farmland change to houses and a road paved next to it? Once it lost its branches, did it miss the birds that used to nest in its arms? These thoughts entertain my mind as I pass by and make my way home, but then the child in me starts intruding. He has his own thoughts that need immediate attention, as all children’s thoughts do. These daydreams would run along the lines of how much fun it would be to visit that tree on a clear, moonlit Halloween night to look for ghosts and how scary it would be if a ghost was actually found. The child in me would be upset at the idea that the tree, being so old, was lonely and sad. He would also fantasize about there being a mysterious door at the base of the tree that lead to an amazing new world where everything was magical. That is the wonderful thing about imagination and things that are old, even if they are considered ugly. When I walk by a new house, I might consider the color or why all new homes seem to have a half circle pane of glass over every window and door. I wouldn’t think about all the generations of people who lived there and how the house might have changed over the years. If I see a new tree, I might think how pretty, but nothing else. No ideas of magical beings hiding in its leaves. No thoughts of all it had withstood. A new tree, with its young branches and green leaves might provide some nice shade, but an old tree, blackened with age, will make my thoughts soar.