The Douglas fir was 150 feet tall, maybe taller. It leaned over the meadow, a steep green propped against open sky. After the day’s work was through, after the great horned owl’s round vowel had filled everything and faded to silence and filled everything again, I liked to tamp tobacco into my pipe and have a long smoke. Rest my head against the cabin’s parched clapboards. Stare at the tree and forget that I was staring.
This was Arizona, a national forest, those years when I ascended ropes and lifted from bulky nests of sticks the not-yet-fledged hawks that my boss, an ornithologist, studied. I’d settle the birds in a bag and lower to the ground. I’d wait for measurements to be taken, blood to be drawn. I’d flinch, an angry mother swooping at me, screaming. Then I’d haul, set the birds in place, check my knots, and rappel.
The canopy was new to me, a secret home above my home, and I couldn’t get enough. So it was hardly surprising to hear, after two cups of strong coffee one bright aimless Saturday morning, the Douglas fir calling my name. I wiggled into a harness, dressed in loops of webbing and clanking carabineers, crossed the meadow. Solo. Uncertain. The best way to make friends with a giant tree.