If you carve your feelings in the bark of the beech tree in Sanderling Park, you can’t deny your love later, even if you sicken at the recollection. No matter how long it has been, no matter how much you despise the beast you once embraced, the record remains. Kathleen Boggs swears it isn’t her name on the tree, says she’d rather dip her nose in honey and shove her head in a groundhog hole than kiss Graaf Gribble.
“Must have been another Graaf,” Gribble insists, “but if she did put her head in a hole, the groundhogs would think she was kin.”
Despite their denials, the record remains: “On this spot, Graaf kissed Kat, 1983.”
Not that I’d fault Graaf and Kathleen for succumbing to the charms of the unattractive. We’ve all entangled ourselves with an ugly at least once. Though I suspect that I’ve been the regret more often than the regretter, I recall a few girls from my past that I’d now hesitate to remove from a rat trap. I never carved our names in a beech tree though, so I can deny it.
Beeches are sneaky. They grow quickly and it takes a few years to regret the carving. By the time you do, your love for Yolanda Lou is over your head. You don’t remember Yolanda, the girl whose nose was so upturned that you could see her brain through her nostrils? Won’t admit it? Avoid the park and pray no one notices, but the tree proclaims your folly.
If people would like to forget the carvings, beeches find it embarrassing to reach a certain girth without them, like a biker with no tattoos. Unadorned beeches cower in the woods, hoping vines will cover their shame; no beech wants squirrels laughing at it. But the tattooed beech is a proud tree, a bookshelf of romance novels carved in bark, a deciduous Jane Austen collection, even if people can only read the titles and wonder at the stories within. Bob may have married a hooker in 1984, but the bark tells us that he loved Sue in 1981. According to the beech, Joe and Amanda loved forever; they’re still together and couldn’t be happier if they owned a private trout stream. The tree tells us that Harley and Lavinia loved in 1958; nothing had changed when Lavinia died in 2012. Brock Barker beat his wife every Tuesday night after bowling practice; the tree says he loved her in 1977, years before he packed his bowling shoes and ran off with a girl from Castor, leaving a weeping Wanda, a babbling baby, two hungry hounds, and a colonial revival with clogged downspouts.
The beech grows, the older names rise, and fresh bark awaits the foolish. One day soon, two clueless lovers will stroll hand in hand through the park and stop to read the names. If the man carries a pocket knife—and he will, if he’s from Sycamore Shadows—they’ll declare their love on the smooth gray bark. They may show the carvings to their grandchildren, or maybe they’ll say it was someone else, but unless lightning strikes, the record remains.