For his years, the Old Man was quite lively, and he loved spending his days at the city park. In fact, he had been fortunate to spend most of his waking hours there for decades, soaking in the environment.
One of his favorite pastimes was watching the minute steps of the trees as they walked slowly through the seasons. He’d see the ice-covered boughs slowly surface from the cold winters. He’d watch the leaves sprout, at first slowly, one by one; then, they would burst forth by the multitudes in the same manner as most of the warm spring rains, with a beginning tease of rainfall, followed by omnipresent caresses.
His favorite trees were the dogwoods which wanted only the hint of loving rays to warm them up into their slanderous robes in shades of white and pink. When the sun was long in the day, they could be seen blushing as the sounds of evening twinkled their petals. Only the robins and dandelions could race the dogwoods from winter’s slumber.
The squirrels were like so many tightly coiled springs until the snow melt. Then, it seemed, they never stopped moving, always busy chittering and chattering amongst themselves, collecting nuts, and flicking their tails in mild agitations when the two and four legged visitors arrived near first light.
He loved people more than trees. He watched them stroll about, casting off their stress with each aimless step. Some didn’t walk, but were pursued by an inner vision that drove them on the same weathered paths, as owls would follow nightly from above in a noiseless searching glissando. Other searchers either walked in the shaded paths of the quiet self-reflecting pool of footfall, or stretched back in a leaning observation of the splintered rainbows that come with the dance between nature and man, sometimes even sketching the colors into words and shades.
While the adults sometimes did seemingly random and delightful things, it was the children that brought a never-ending kaleidoscopic display of ecstasy and delight. They played in groups as tangled knots of arms and legs, or spread out like a cat’s cradle weaving as a fated caterpillar after eating too many leaves.
There was a group of six children, three boys and three girls, that filled him with the greatest emotions. They loved to call him the “Old Man in the Park”. It was spoken with both affection and respect. He couldn’t even remember how or when they started calling him the Old Man. They made him feel like he really belonged. He had been near ready to stop his days there, until they came, saw him, introduced themselves, and hugged him. He always loved children; but, these were special.
He felt more love from these six than he had felt from all others in his past, combined. They would sit at his feet and giggle while watching everyone else. The girls would sometimes sit cross-legged and gossip for hours as if he wasn’t a party to their conversational delicacies. The boys would tell manly stories, brag, and play cards.
As they became older, their visits grew less, until one would visit in a month. The boys, of course, grew more aloof and stopped their hugs; but, never stopped the acknowledgement of the good times shared with him. Even as women, the girls would often embrace him and the golden innocence of the past. He even met a few of their children, before the end.
As summer approached winter by the dusted shuffle into fall, many of the trees would cast bouquets of green, yellow, orange and red onto the walks, Lovers would stroll lightly past, leaning into each other for warmth against the cooling air. He would never fail to smile in his own way as he beheld the intimacy between them. Those evenings were full with the hellos of freshness and the goodbyes of maturity.
Not all ends are sudden and abrupt. This particular end sneaked up on the Old Man. It started with less people in the park, gradually dwindling to near nothing. Then, only men wearing little yellow hats visited, being followed by big yellow machines.
The Old Man remained as long as he could. The noise of the machines grew louder than thunder; and the greens of life turned to the brown of ground. One evening, either as a belated courtesy, or a forced apology, one machine stopped at his very feet. The men had quit for the evening. It was his last night at the park.
The next morning, the men, not the machines, idled about in wonder. Before that parked machine, where the Old Man had stood his ground proudly and defiantly was a tremendous hole. The hole was the vacant reminder of where the largest and oldest tree in the city had pulled itself up, and left.