Grant Kittrell

The Beech Tree

Just don’t linger beneath it, the arborist warned us, this one’s known for its capriciousness. Don’t set your hunting stand in it, he said. I’m not a hunter, I said, in fact I’m a vegetarian, and he said, that’s not the point. 

Despite our wishes, the insurance company had mandated the beech be trimmed no less than ten feet from the house, and we had given in, as one does on these kinds of things, and sat watching now as the arborist’s team carved an acceptable revision of a tree we’d admired so much when we’d stumbled on the house just months before. 

For the money, we should’ve had the whole damn thing taken out, Sal said, which was a fair point given that its roots were already digging up the driveway, and worse, it had sights on the house. Not to mention the spare limbs, still looming close enough to plunge through the roof. One bad storm, just one bad storm–this town was known for its erratic winds. But, you know, some things need a chance to prove themselves otherwise, I said, or something like that, and Sal gave in and we let the tree stay. We didn’t question it again. 

That is until a stray branch caught old Dolly off guard. The neighbor’s tabby. Just enjoying the tree’s flickering shade, the last days of summer, and then that limb came down out of nowhere and, well, you know, poor thing. We didn’t have the heart to tell Pam and Edgar, seeing as how we’re trying to land in our neighbor’s good graces, but we found a nice cool spot out back beneath the maple–the risk seemed pretty low, and that was that.  

But then there was that night with the car, the alarm sounding us out of sleep. We thought for sure it was a burglar–we’d seen this fella snooping down our street just weeks before. We thought: maybe it’s Edgar, maybe he knows something, paying us back for our shifty behavior. Maybe he’s just looking for Dolly…But, to our surprise, we found another tree branch, wide as my calf, jutting straight through the sunroof, the leather seats beneath it. Don’t get me wrong, we were angry, I was angry. New car, new goddamn car, I thought, but, well, it’s not the tree’s fault, you know, just a stint of bad luck, thank God no one was in the car, that could have very well been my—

After the twelfth day in Saint Luke’s, I woke up with a throbbing temple, but I was okay. One inch to the left would have rendered me useless, or worse. I had been repotting the mums out front, breathing in the first drafts of the season, so lost in the day I’d forgotten where I was. Things happen, you know, and I’m lucky, but the whole mishap gave me a new lease on life, as they say, and Sal was there now rubbing my head. We grew closer than ever those next few months. The following year was a hard one though—what, with uncle Marty’s tragic bicycle accident (involving, quite notably, another tree), Judy’s cancer came back, sea levels rose, a pandemic took hold and we kept to ourselves mostly as we watched the days and our loved ones pass from a distance. 

But the driveway, and the house for that matter, shined brighter with every fallen branch, and the weight of each new grief made the prospect of chopping down our tree even more unfathomable. We’re okay here, Sal said, and what are we going to do, starting cutting down every tree that looks at us wrong? Some days when the world seems too small for us, Sal and I have taken to climbing that old beech out front, to get a better view of the neighborhood and beyond it. We cling to its branches, take stock of our breath, let the cool bark slide beneath our skin. 

Grant Kittrell is a writer, illustrator, and musician. He is the Poetry Editor at Flock Literary Journal (recipient of CLMP’s “Best Debut Magazine” award). He has served as Writer-in-Residence at Randolph College and currently directs the college’s Writing Program and Academic Services Center. He was the Philip Booth Poetry Prize winner (2018) and a Pushcart prize nominee. Among other publications, his writing has appeared in The Common, Salt Hill, Split Rock Review, The Carolina Quarterly, The Normal School, and Gigantic Sequins, and in his collection of prose poems, Let’s Sit Down, Figure This Out (Groundhog Poetry Press). He lives in Lynchburg, VA with his partner Hannah and their pups Margot and Hap.