THE TREE IN THE ARROYO
By Iris R. Slocombe
It was a tall tree, probably grown from a seed swept downstream from the hills above. It had thrust its roots into the loose gravel where it had lodged. Eventually it became a mature tree, offering many gifts to the people of the pueblo on the lake shore.
On hot Sundays and fiestas, picnicking families trudged up the mountain, lugging baskets of food, drinks, hoping to find shade from the sun under its branches. The children rolled a couple of old tires, laughing when they got away and rolled back down the mountain. When water was running in the arroyo, the children pulled off shoes and socks, though many were already bare-footed, to wade gleefully in the shallow water. The older children were sent to look for wood to build a fire for their mothers to prepare a simple comida.
The men usually arrived later, hauling ropes, and the little ones begged them to hurry and hang the tire-swings from the branches of the tree. The smallest children then climbed eagerly to be swung by their papas. The older boys brought ‘boom boxes’ to banish the unaccustomed and unwelcome quiet of the countryside. Two or three would be tuned to different stations, producing the ear-splitting cacophony they considered music. In the fall, the tree bore small fruit gathered eagerly by the women to supplement their limited diet.
Most weeks the crowds arrived, some in battered cars but most on foot. Any gringos living close to the arroyo, would hope in vain for a quiet siesta, but some attempted to rest in spite of the noise. Occasionally a storm might roll in, its booming thunder enough to send the crowds scurrying homewards, while clouds of rain sheeted across the hills, drenching those unwise enough to stay outside and risk being struck by lightning.
When the wind blew fiercely, dead branches fell, later gathered for firewood. Year by year the tree grew and eventually reached its full maturity, even though its roots by now were spread out into the arroyo. After all, what could kill such a strong tree?
A few years earlier a cloud-burst had filled the arroyo, and torrents had surged through our front door, and we swept the water out of the house using a ‘squeegie’ to clear the muddy mess. The tree remained undamaged by that storm. Afterwards we had a rock wall built, hoping we might be able to divert the water from the arroyo away from the house, but we moved away soon after, and were living a few miles away when finally its last day came.
Black clouds piled into thunderheads as dusk fell; forked lightning scissored through the dark. Thunder rolled and suddenly a deep-throated growl of angry water sounded from the hills above, the sound of a sodden hillside collapsing under the weight of water that had been falling for many days. Soon the water cascaded through the arroyo as a mud-slide, bearing broken tree limbs and rocks of all sizes, smashing them at the base of the tree.
As a huge rock hit the tree trunk, it struggled to keep its balance, but finally the tree could stand no more. Its roots gave way, as it collapsed into the arroyo which had become an impassible raging torrent, powerful enough to sweep the tree down-stream, until it lodged at the foot of that wall built to protect the house above it from just such a disaster. The house was seriously damaged. As the tree lay there, more water and rocks piled against it and even swept a car through the wall into the guest bedroom!
There was no way people could move the fallen tree. Rocks as big as cars blocked the road, and with some difficulty the ‘destroyers’ finally arrived. Perched high upon bright yellow back-hoes, operators tugged at the fallen tree but even their backhoes could not move it. More men arrived with chain saws, to hack the trunk into usable logs that could be split for firewood. The people of the pueblo were very thankful for this last gift from the tree: a supply of almost free firewood and kindling.
Later another tiny seedling rooted itself. Perhaps by the time the youngest children have memories of that old tree, the new tree will be ready for their children.