If Anyone Asks

Mom made Dad carry the handsaw on his other side so we would not upset the family of five taking pictures along the path. The three small children on the child sized fire engine didn’t seem to notice the handsaw; they just wanted to play with the pretty white dog. We let Scamp sniff them and went on our way. Dad picked up a long straight branch and handed it to me.

He furrowed his eyebrows in faux seriousness and his eyes twinkled merrily. “This is your staff.”

I shrugged and went along with it. Mom investigated the various eucalyptus branches along the path and set aside a few to pick up on the return trip. I walked along pretending to be Gandalf the Grey until we got out of the eucalyptus grove and onto the bike trail. The dirt trail runs along the bottom of the mountains not too far away from the freeway. Red dust caked my boots and the dog. The fire had ravaged this hillside years ago and among the million weeds and a few spring flowers stood the black twisted shapes of trees. Despite the grey dead wood and blackened bark they looked natural among all the greenery.

We found a likely spot and started up, managing not to get tangled up in the dog leash. I was grateful for my staff now as the side of the hill was steep and hard to see under the weeds. Nettles crunched under my boot and I did my best not to step on the brave purple wildflowers pushing their way into the sunshine. Dad and Mom stopped to look at the merits of a particular branch and I wandered a bit away to watch the cars on the freeway and explore. My eye caught on the shape of a branch on the ground. Long and broad twisted in an “L” shape.

“What about this one?” I asked.

“Well, pick it up and spin it,” Dad said.

“It’s like buying a Christmas tree,” Mom added.

I picked up the branch and held it at an angle. Dad tilted his head and made his way over. Mom stayed where she was as Scamp was interested in sniffing out a lizard from the brush.

“I like the look of this one. It has potential.” Dad took the branch and tested its strength across his knee. He nodded and pruned off the spindly top limbs with the handsaw. I took it back as Dad turned to survey the hill. He pointed up further and Mom nodded.

“I’ll take this to the pile, be right back,” I said.

Dad nodded and waited for Mom to maneuver Scamp over a boulder as I started down carrying the branch. When my staff kept me from falling down the last three feet I figured I knew why puny wizards carried them. They were darn handy. Like an extra leg.

With the addition of my branch, we had three. Dad wanted a little more variety.

I headed on up and stood with my parents debating the shape of a few limbs.

“Nah, I want more of a ‘Y’ shape to it,” Dad said.

“What about that one?” Mom asked.

“Too thin.”

I spotted a half broken off trunk and fell in love with the twisted candelabra shape of it. I walked over and took a good look at it. It was the kind of shape I thought of when picturing ornate and beautiful gardens. Organic and graceful. “What about this one?” I asked. “I’d pick it up, but it’s still attached.”

Dad and Mom liked it too. Dad trimmed my branch and another Mom had picked out and we headed down to our pile. We divvied up the wood. It took me a minute, but I figured out I could balance my staff and a long branch in the ‘Y’ shape one. I laughed.

“I had a clever,” I said and turned, nearly hitting my Dad in the face with one. Mom laughed. Dad smiled. “Just don’t turn with it,” he said and looked at his branches to see if he could make a similar shape. After a few tries he balanced the biggest branch with a ‘V’ split over his shoulders with the ‘V’ around the back of his neck and balanced another across the front making a triangle.

“Discovered by daughter, improved by Dad.”

I laughed. We came to Mom’s pile of branches and she handed Scamp’s leash to Dad so she could pick them up.

“If anyone asks,” Dad said from the center of his triangular wooden yoke, “we’re doing an art project.”

Sure enough, around the bend and into the eucalyptus grove a photographer was setting up to take mother daughter pictures.

“That’s some interesting wood, what did you get it for?” she asked.

I smiled. “Art project,” I replied and followed my dad out to the car.

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