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Five Trees

“On the sheltering hillside
where the fence has fallen
the great aspen and the great pine
stand tall together
like brothers
the tiny, frail sister between them
and the two younger pines
like cousins
stand watch behind them.”

This was the little verse I wrote two years ago, after I had buried my knife up at Ryman Creek, to help me find it again someday. This past Sunday was that day.



“Three pine cones make a nest. Dry leaves and twigs a writhing mass caught in stasis, no doubt to be rearranged by the weather before my return.

Upon this hillside I tell myself, “To punish myself is to punish my family more.” I repeat it over and again.

But the urge to cut myself is like the urge to breathe, to scratch Zil’s itchy spot, to drink the living water from whom I seem to have banished myself…

Ritualized actions, I think. A scene from House comes to mind: ‘ritualized, you play the same Sara McLaughlin song over and over every time you do it . . . .’

So I make up a new ritual, even as my hand, almost against my will, prizes the Winchester knife out of my tight jeans pocket.

I dig a hole, imagining as I do the poetic elements for my future clues. I wrap the Winchester in the only protective shroud I have on my person. A fudge rounds wrapper. Then I secure it with oversized dandelion leaves and bind them with grass.

My son is watching me now, and playing with the dry, brown puffballs with their coffee-colored smoke. He gives me a knife and I carve my initials into the aspen: Interestingly, AT. I’d meant to put ATR but I am thinking of CStJude and I know I can’t put all that…the tolerant aspen chosen to stand guard over the Knife has given enough. So I forget the final ‘R.’

The knife I am using is a hunting knife of my son’s that has a bent point, making it difficult to carve and certainly to hunt with?

(clues for as we drive in) To the left of the road, a small root-clan of aspen reaches toward the road. The corrals are distant. The great aspen is only visible at its top. The brother trees look like a huge pine with an aspen wig on top of its head. This is just past the top of the entrance just after the road that has doubled ends, then I will look to the left for the reaching root-clan. Just past that on the hill stand the mighty pine/aspen twins.

-this task has been so absorbing that my mood has improved-”

All that is what I wrote two years ago in a small notebook that I take on hikes. It is not dated. I don’t remember what I was so upset about. Probably nothing tangible. But I was miserable and fatalistic and filled with the urge to self-harm. Now I am no longer in danger of cutting, and have not been in a long time. I would like to say not since that day, but honestly I cannot be sure.

Here are the five trees:

Five Trees

The five trees as approached from the side of the hill

And here are my initials, right where I left them:


and here is the knife, unburied, at the foot of the aspen:

Unburied Knife

…still cradled in its Fudge Rounds wrapper.

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