Harbors Springs Festival

“The Tree” by Donna Watkins

“The Tree,” by Donna Watkins, is the first-place winner in a tree-themed essay contest organized by Michigan’s 2017 Harbor Springs Festival of the Book and judged by Josh MacIvor-Andersen.

To a small girl, the ash tree in front of the house looked huge. It was much taller than the two story house in which she lived. She and her two younger sisters could barely touch fingers with outstretched arms when they tried to circle its trunk.

The broad canopy provided a cooler, shaded place to play in the myrtle that encircled its base. It was not a tree for climbing, as the lowest branches were too high off the ground, but it was a perfect place to set the picnic tables for family outdoor events, and there were many such occasions as the girl and the tree added to their lives.

Birds often chose the tree as their nesting site, and the squirrels and chipmunks loved to scamper up the broad trunk and scurry among its branches.

Each fall, it shed its yellow leaves to be raked and tilled into the garden. As it rested during the winter, it stood dark and bare against the white snow. On moonlit nights it cast long shadows across the snow-covered yard.

Each spring the tree buds put forth new leaves and its twigs grew a bit longer as the tree added another unseen ring to its trunk.

The family who loved the tree grew and eventually a new family owned the tree, but the ash continued its yearly ritual—rest, put forth new leaves, provide shade, grow a bit, shed leaves, and rest.

After the tree and the girl had added nearly a century to their lives, the girl visited the tree. It looked older, as did she. Its bark had lost its smoothness and was full of furrows, as was she. However, it warmed the girl’s heart to see the tree still standing, taller and bigger than remembered, still providing shade for the myrtle and all who ventured under it, and giving birds and squirrels a place to romp.

May the tree continue on so that someday when a little girl of today is nearing the century mark, she too can visit the tree and recall all the pleasures it bestowed.

92-year-old Donna Watkins lives in Carp Lake, MI and is a member of the Bliss Writers Group. She was a kindergarten teacher for 32 years. Although a prolific letter writer, “The Tree” is her first creative writing piece.

Michigan’s Harbor Springs Festival of the Book is a rich celebration of literature nestled in a small town by a big lake.