By Shelly Reuben
My Mostly Happy Life: Autobiography of a Climbing Tree

Illustrations by Ruth McGraw

Chapter 25 - A Benediction. A Blessing. A Home.

For about a week after the storm, our city alternated between widespread paralysis and hyperactivity.  

Day One: Cars are overturned in flood debris. 

Day Two: All evidence of damaged vehicles disappears.

Day Three: Streets are littered with water-swollen doors, broken traffic lights, and mangled stair railings. 

Day Four: The traffic lights have been repaired, new doors have been installed, and new glass panes are gleaming from windows of ground floor homes.

In the park, though, nothing changed. 

Except for a feeling. 

When people came back to us, not under duress but solely for the pleasure of our company, they brought with them a most particular tenderness. I know that’s an odd word to describe interludes of a few seconds, a few minutes, or a few hours, but I can think of no other way to explain it.

Some would stand beside a bench where they had curled up under a blanket after the storm, and they would pat its wrought iron arm rests the way a mother or a father would pat the head of a beloved child.

My Mostly Happy Life: Autobiography of a Climbing Tree

One man came to the Children’s Garden, unwrapped a roll of shiny new quarters, dropped all of them into the pond that surrounded the statue of Ethan’s Best Friend, and created a circle of silver that looked like an offering to a mythical god. A married couple walked into the park carrying armfuls of yellow daisies, and like veterans distributing poppies at a Memorial Day parade, they placed flowers on park benches, the stone bridge over the little creek, in front of the poem plaques in the Children’s Garden, and just about everywhere else that they could reach.

Most of these displays of tenderness, however, were directed towards us, the climbing trees. We noticed how, before a grownup or a child would climb into our arms, they often paused for a long moment to stroke our bark, to rub a leaf between their fingers, or to run a gently exploratory hand around the contour of a branch.

Our visitors, or at least those who fell in love with us after the storm, were like soldiers returning from a war. 

A war during which the park had been their sanctuary.

Every bench, brick, blade of grass, flower petal, leaf and limb was lovingly looked upon, and each loving look bestowed a benediction and a blessing. Just as, years before, the elm trees in the quad at Samuel Swerling’s college had stirred his soul, so did we in the Samuel Swerling Park, stir the souls of our neighbors and our friends.

On the terrible-wonderful night of the storm, we became their sanctuary, true. 

But we also became much more than that.  

We became their home.

Copyright © 2017, Shelly Reuben

Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her work, visit