Up a Tree

by Edwin E. Steele, Jr.

Carl and I were good friends living in the suburbs of a large city.

Carl had a cousin Jim, who was about our age. But Jim lived on a wonderful farm about two miles away. It was an especially attractive farm on a hot summer day like the one our story is concerned with, because a cool, tree-shaded stream flowed gently across one corner of it.

“Hey, Steele,” Carl yelled early that sultry morning, “let’s ride our bikes out to Jim’s and go swimming.” We had done this several times before that summer, and since it was a safe pastime, our mothers gave their consent quickly enough.

It was not so easy for Jim to get away though. He was a farm boy and had work to do. What he was doing when we reached the farm was not hard, but long before we saw him, Carl and I were glad we were not in his position. The whole area was pervaded with a terrible aroma. Jim’s dad and older brother were cleaning out the bull pen, and Jim was keeping the bull in one corner by holding a pitchfork pointed at him.

“May I, Dad?” Jim pleaded after we had suggested our plan for going swmming.

“In just a few minutes,” his father replied. “When this wagon is loaded we’ll be finished here and you may go.”

Just why Carl and I stood around waiting for them to finish I cannot say, but we did, complaining all the time about the terrible odor. But it was because we stayed that we heard the order Jim’s father gave Jim when the wagon was full.

“O.K., Jim,” he said. “Fasten the gate after we pull out, then you may go swimming with the boys.”

With a yell, Jim slammed the gate, threw the pitchfork on the loaded wagon, and dashed off with us toward the stream.

“Last one in is a baby,” one of us yelled as we ran pell mell across the field.

As I dived beneath the surface, the first one in, I planned how I would razz the other two for being so slow. But as my head popped up, all thoughts of razzing disappeared. In fact, I was unnable to say a word. My mouth went dry. My throat tightened. My tongue felt as if it had a board tied to it. All I could do was point, and push some weird, undistinguishable, sounds up through my fear-parched throat.

“Up the tree, fast!” Jim ordered the moment he looked the way I was pointing.

I’m not sure who was the last one up that tree, or whether any of us even thought of calling him a baby. All I know is that we climbed in record time. And, believe me, even that speed was none too quick. Almost before we got into the protective branches, we saw chaos below us.

“I think he’ll probably leave after he rips our clothes to pieces.” Carl tried to console us, but his voice was curiously high-pitched and shaky.

A few minutes before, the bull, in the pen, had seemed as gentle as a lamb. But now we looked down on the back of a monster– wild and bellowing. He snorted, he tore at the earth with his hoofs, he ripped our clothes with his horns. For ten or fifteen minutes his fury continued, then suddenly he began to graze.

“Maybe when he gets full, he’ll leave.” Carl was determined to be hopeful, even though his earlier prediction had failed.

Have you ever sat on the limb of a tree with nothing to protect you from the rough surface of the bark? Of course, while the bull was acting like a demon, we thought of little else than his ferocity. Now that he was quiet, however, we began to think of ourselves.

Carl’s second prediction failed too. After eating all the green weeds he wanted, the bull lay down peacefully to relax and chew his cud. And where do you suppose he chose to lie? You’re right! Directly beneath our tree! Maybe our tree gave better shade. Maybe the few tattered remnants of our clothing still left made the ground seem softer to him. Whatever the real reason, we three tree-perchers were sure he chose the spot just to keep his eye on us. Oh, he didn’t look at us, but we knew that if one of us had dared move from the tree, that peaceful, sleepy-eyed, quietly resting animal would suddenly have come bellowing and furiously awake.

So we had to stick it out, sitting first on one hand, then on the other; sometimes on both, or neither; sometimes even standing on the branch– any position just to keep one area of our bark-tortured skin from being tortured too long.

and it was evident that no one was coming to help us. Everyone thought that we were safe, having a good time in the cool, clear waters of the tree-shaded stream. What more could three young fellows desire? We would not be disturbed–or helped–until we didn’t show up at dinnertime.

We wiggled silently for a while, then Carl said, “It’s all your fault, Jim. If you had done what your dad told you to, and had locked the gate, we would be swimming now instead of sitting up here.”

“Yeah,” Jim retaliated, not thinking about his grammar, “and if you guys hadn’t rushed me I would’ve checked the lock.”

“Don’t blame us,” Carl and I snapped in unison, “It wasn’t us your dad told to lock the gate.”

“Well, it wasn’t my fault either,” Jim maintained. “Dad should take care of his own bull.”

“Why doesn’t he come and get us out of here?” we groaned. “Surely he knows by now the bull’s loose.”

For more than three hours we sat in that tree, scratched miserably by the rough bark. For more than three hours we waited for someone to come and rescue us. And for those three terrible hours we blamed one another, Jim’s dad, his brother, even his mother–anyone but ourselves for the trouble we were in. Something like the way Adam and Eve blamed God after they ate the forbidden fruit. Or the way some people still blame God for the troubles they bring on themselves by sinning.

Pretty stupid, weren’t we?

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Up a Tree

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