A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words . . . More or Less

During our travels as full time RVers, I’ve snapped some pretty interesting photos. Today was one of those days. We’re currently camped in the Texas Panhandle – windy, flat, and miles and miles of nothing. As I stared across a vast expanse of farmland, I saw a single tree standing tall against the horizon. I was curious. Why would the landowner leave one tree in the middle of his crops?

A story played out in my mind so I thought I would share. It’s purely fictional. And short. Enjoy!

As always, you can follow our adventures at OlDogandMe.com

The Tree

by Deb Sanders

The land stretched as far as she could see – raw and unpolished, like the homesteader who lived here. For a genteel woman from the East, it was beyond her comprehension how anyone could exist in such a wasteland. It was not beautiful as he’d been promised. Nor did it instill a sense of grandeur. Her blue eyes narrowed under the shield of a gloved hand as she stood on the wagon seat, surveying her new home. In the end, the only emotion she could summon was . . . despair.

The wind tugged at the ribbons on her new bonnet. It was too late to return to the proper life she’d known in Philadelphia. Too late for remorse.

“What do you think?”

She sat down on the plank seat, staring straight ahead. “It’s flat.”

“All the better for farming. The grassland is good for grazing, too. Figured I might run a few head of cattle next spring.”

Her hand flattened against the hat as a gust threatened to snatch it from her head. “Does it blow like this all the time?” He laughed. For a moment, her heart swelled at the sound, reminding her of the reason she married and moved West.

“There’s not much out here to stop the wind. You’ll get used to it.”

She didn’t believe him. “Where’s your house?”

“Over there. See that mound? That’s called a dugout. There ain’t no trees for lumber so most homesteaders just dig into the ground.”

She glanced from left to right. Not a single tree dotted the high plains. Her heart sank.

Life was hard in those days. Her hands became rough and calloused, unaccustomed to the primitive lifestyle. As much as she loved her husband, a part of her longed for picnics, surrey rides on Sunday, and parlor games by the fire – all the things they’d enjoyed during their courtship. He’d been visiting an uncle in Philadelphia when they met. How could she have known his world was so vastly different from her own? There was no time for frivolous pursuits out here. Just work, and more work.

He found her crying next to the water trough one afternoon. Being a man of deep emotion but few words, he struggled with a response. Awkwardly standing before her, he tried to wipe the tears from her face.

“Have I done something?”

“No . . . yes.”

A line formed between his thick brows. “Well, which is it?”

“I want to go on a picnic.”

“Okay. I reckon I can take some time off tomorrow.”

“No . . . just forget it. You don’t understand.”

“You’re right. I don’t. You wanted to go on a picnic. I said I’d take you and now you’ve changed your mind.” He stepped back and scratched his head.

“I don’t want to go on a picnic here!” she sobbed. “I want trees. I want green lawns and pretty flowers. I want to go home.”

“I see.”

It was all he said before turning and walking away. She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it. He didn’t love her. She wasn’t sure he ever did. Shoulders slumped as she shuffled to the cabin to prepare supper, much like a death row inmate on their way to the executioner’s chair.

The setting sun cast a red gold haze over the tall grass when she finally peered out the door. He should have come in from the fields by now. She stepped outside and stared across the miles of nothingness. No sign of her husband. Anger surged through her as she thought of the meal growing cold on the table. She slammed the door and marched across the dirt floor. Rather than wait for him as she always did, she sat down and ate alone.

The fire had turned to embers by the time she realized he wasn’t coming home. Sleep was sporadic, fractured with angst and worry. When the rooster crowed at daybreak the next morning, she had a pot of coffee brewed, hoping he might show up for breakfast. He didn’t. Nor did he appear the rest of the day.

Certain her husband met an ill fate, and distraught her last words were unpleasant, she pondered what to do. He’d taken both horses and the wagon. Without transportation, she had no alternative but to walk five miles to the nearest neighbor and ask for help. That night, she cried herself to sleep.

At first she thought she was dreaming. He was smoothing the hair from her face, nuzzling her cheek. “Wake up. I have something to show you.”

Her lids flew upward. She threw herself against him, arms tangled so tightly around his neck, he gasped for breath. “I thought you left me.”


“Where have you been?” she sniffed, pulling back just enough to meet his amused gaze.

“Get dressed and I’ll show you.”

She slipped into her day clothes, lacing her boots before twisting blonde locks into a bun. “I’m ready.”

He escorted her to the wagon outside. After helping his wife into the seat, he climbed up beside her and softly clicked his tongue. The horses took off in a trot. They rode in silence for a short distance before she spied something on the horizon. It was dark, and thick, like a monolith against the sky.

“What is that?”

He didn’t speak. As they drew closer, her hand flew to her mouth. All she could do was stare at the tall spindly Cottonwood sprouting up from the grassland. The earth around it was freshly tilled.

He pulled the horses to a halt before jumping out and helping her to the ground. “It ain’t much right now. I rode over to McLean and found it growing next to the railroad tracks. Took me most of the day to dig it up and most of the next day to bring it here and replant it. I figure we can still have picnics out here until it’s big enough to provide shade.” His feet shuffled nervously. “I know you’re disappointed about the house but if you stay, I’ll work real hard to build one made out of timber. And I’ll order flower seeds so you can have a garden. This tree is all I can do right now. Is it . . . enough?”

She slowly transferred her eyes from the Cottonwood to her husband. For the first time, she saw pain and uncertainty in his face. “You did this for me?”

He nodded. “I love you.”

So it was the couple worked side by side, nurturing the tree through the harsh winter and into spring when new life sprang forth from the dormant limbs. As the Cottonwood grew tall and spread its boughs wide, they shared many meals, hopes and dreams under its leafy canopy, even conceiving their first child there. Many years later, after their work on Earth was done, they were buried side by side beneath the massive tree, which still stands today as a symbol of their love.

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