“The Secret Ladder Tree”—a recollection

I’ve been meaning to publish this story, for Anessa, but I can’t remember why for her. Maybe it’s for Lori-Lyn. No, no, no! It’s for JT!


Once there was a tree, and it was a great tree.

I think it was my favorite tree ever.

JT called it “The Secret Ladder Tree.” In my mind, it didn’t have a name, but I can still see it, leaning skyward, a hulking bent-over pine in a grove of hulking bent-over Eastern White pines. Towering over a matted down bed of fallen needles, these trees stood away from the assorted paths, a shaded brood of sentinels. Most people bypassed them for the more obvious glories the garden, full of tulips and herbs, rich with manicure.

The pines had branches that groaned out from their sides, caked with sap. The bottom-most branches—those that hadn’t been pruned—were nearly on the ground in the ten to fifteen feet that they ventured on the perpendicular, away from the trunk. But even these branches seemed just intentionally out-of-reach to the casual would-be climber.

Which was fine. Because the casual climber didn’t merit the Secret Ladder Tree.

A friend showed me the tree, in the quiet dark, probably, one Ashland night, in the ’80s. Showed me how, with a little foot-up, a purchase could be transacted. With a foot-up, you could climb up into The Secret Ladder Tree. Once up, even a seat on that first torso sized branch incited a pinch of vertigo, a tightening of the grip. Looking up, it was more than a pinch as the giant exploded skywards, arcing madly out of sight though a vortex of branches.

And it was easy to sit still there and think, “That’s good for me. Right here,” legs dangling, heart mildly racing, eight feet off the ground. But the next branch was right there and if you held on, and hoisted yourself to standing… and if you made a couple well-placed steps, you were 15 feet up. And that was certainly enough… But after the second landing, there was something you didn’t notice. Now, as you looked up the trunk into that dizzying regress, it seems like there’s a spray of branches, fanning up and around, up and around.

And so you can’t help it.

That basic curiosity overrules the preternatural fear, and you start: One foot, and then one hand, and then the other, and then the other.

Every time I climbed this tree, whether alone or with a friend, I thought the same thing: I can’t do this. My heart would be pounding and I didn’t have to weigh the merits of not looking down. That was a no-brainer; anyway, down was farther and farther away with every step up.

Soon though— Tree World. The ground dissipates and becomes more abstract, obscured by cone and needle. As I approached it, every time, I could hardly believe it. Safety. Destination. Quietude. The Landing.

The Landing. Way way up in a tree, once upon a time, there was a cradle, a recline, a purchase. Way up above Ashland, there was a special place where two people could sit and talk, and forget about the world 50 feet below. Talk about “step into my office…” Way up there was a place that one person could actually lie back and go to sleep, as I did on many treasured occasions, dozing safely in the cradling arms of a great tree.

Kitty on the prowl

Kitty knows roses
Originally uploaded by mrtoastey.

My kitty, she don’t want to stay inside this time of year.

Much hunting to be done. Most of the year, there’s a fairly even division of inside and outside time— If she wants out, I let her out. If she wants in, I let her in. This time of year, she just comes in for some Cat Chow. Then it’s back out to do cat things. Here, she’s accessorized by the fabulous Bassett Rose Bush, which is draping the house (and nearly the lawn) with floral wonder.

One of my favorite things, incidentally, about outside kitty is that the inside litter box is kind of neglected. A habit that I endorse and adopt.

The sneaky Clematis!

The sneaky Clematis!
Originally uploaded by mrtoastey.

Over at the Bassett back yard, there’s some great covert growth. Take this here Clematis— Just yesterday, Lucy and I were lamenting the fact that none of the Clemati that we’ve endeavored to plant have amounted to anything. They’re fragile climbers, for sure, but around this time of year, when you start seeing them blooming, wrapped around people’s lamp posts and such, you think: “I want one of those!” So I’ve tried for a couple of years to get one established.

I thought I’d failed.

Then, putting my bike away today, I was closing the back yard gate and what a surprise to see this fella, who’s actually been quietly gaining a foothold of substance up the side of the chainlink fence. It made my day, it did.

Pint Lock your ice cream!

I haven’t had suitably treacherous roommates in quite a while, but you might. Fear for your ice cream? It’s Pint Lock to the rescue! Warning. If you work with me or share a refrigerator, I really wouldn’t think twice about stealing your ice cream. Yes, I’m that guy.

Cambodian Watermelon Art!

Japanese Cambodian Watermelon Art

Oh, I know, I know— you’re probably looking for some extended bit of ranting on something or another. I’m just way behind and am getting back here soon, really! Right now, in the words of my new sister-in-law, I got nothin’ for ya! Except of course one of those “jeez, that is a crazy way to spend your time” links, namely Japanese Watermelon Sculpture! Enjoy and bon appetit!

Horsin’ Around

Blur-by week. Or Derby week, I guess. whatever, it was, it was a bucketful, a julip full, an aircraft hanger full of fun. Fun, people! Like it was meant to be had! The kind where there’s not someplace you’ve got to be, not someplace you’d rather be. No business that you gotta take care of real quick or appointments to fit in. That kind of fun.

Much of this must be credited to The Minnesotans, who rallied, sparred, jabbed and parried like only the most exquisite and delectable party people can. How do you write about this? Well, first, I guess, you mention the reunion show by Love Jones, who amazed in spite of their near-brillo-pad roughness. For most bands, not practicing for a $25 a head charity gig would strike a dubious (and sour) chord, but the Louisville laggards (no, they did not appear in Swingers but they were in Since You’ve Been Gone) demonstrated that their “we don’t fucking care what you think” edge was still razer sharp. Jennifer and I agreed that we’d never cut a band this much slack before and had such a great time in the process. Also, if a big loud rock show in an aircraft hanger sounds like a good idea, think again. Still, pour a strong and cheap enough screwdriver, in sufficient quantities and it’s a wonder nobody got arrested on the adjacent runway (Or, as Ben explained: “As good of an idea as it may sound like, do not leave here and decide to drive your car down the runway. Take my word for it. I did it once and … it was pretty cool…“)

One of the weirdest and coolest things of the evening was running into Anessa, a friend from the blogosphere! Wow! Who rock the party, she rock the party! I’m not sure it it was even weirder, but it turned out that we had actually met once before. At The Icehouse.

Much much more fun was had, but this post is already a week late, so another time, alrighty?

But here’s some pictures, which are pretty funny. Especially the ones at Henry’s Ark in Louisville.