My Most Happy Life Chapter 34

Updated 2 years ago By Shelly Reuben
My Most Happy Life Chapter 34

Illustrations by Ruth McGraw

Chapter 34 Survival is not a Foregone Conclusion

When Esther Swerling, Meg Fitzgerald, and Merritt Jones reassembled for a tactical conference beneath my branches, it was the first time that they had been in my company but did not climb into my branches, or at the very least, sit on the grass and lean against my trunk.

It was a terrible, terrible feeling to be so near but yet so far, and I cannot tell you how abandoned I felt. And how alone.

I could see the tears in Esther’s eyes, the angry jut of Merritt’s jaw, and Meg’s pursed lips.

I could see and hear everything that my friends did and said.

But I could not touch them.

And they could not touch me.

It was not permitted.

Much had happened during the weeks after Jarvis Larchmont took over the Samuel Swerling Park. You know about the mayor’s hospitalization, the park commissioner becoming acting mayor, the airplane crashes, Mike Hurwitz’s skirmish with neo-Nazis, Jarvis Larchmont’s television interview, and so on. What you do not know, unless you’ve been reading between the lines, is that survival is not a foregone conclusion.

We climbing trees were sick.

All of us.

Our failing health did not only concern the Swerling family and their friends. Others as well had observed ominous changes in our condition and perceived our rapid decline. Fearing for our lives, they petitioned the Department of Parks for help.

Somewhat to our surprise, Jarvis Larchmont acted promptly upon their requests.

First he proclaimed that he had only the park’s best interests at heart. Then, with great fanfare and at great city expense, he consulted arborists, tree doctors, botanists, and landscapers, all of whom had different theories and each of whom tormented us with a different supposition:

Proposal: We weren’t getting enough nitrates.

Counter-proposal: We were getting too many nitrates!

Proposal: We needed organic compost.

Counter-proposal: We needed chemically manufactured fertilizer and insecticidal soap.

Proposal: We were not getting enough water.

Counter proposal: We were drowning H20.

Proposal: Our sunlight was weak and ineffectual.

Counter-proposal: We had been exposed to far too much sun.


They were all fools.

But Esther knew what was happening. All of the Swerlings knew. So did Meg and her parents. So did Merritt, Alonso, and Hercules.

Other knew, too.

I have no recollection of the sequence of events over those first few weeks, because I was too feeble for linear thinking. But I clearly remember every incident, where it happened, with whom, how and why. And interestingly, throughout it all, it was not Esther who stands out in my mind as being our greatest advocate, but her older brother Carmichael.

Carmichael Swerling, you will recall, is the newsman that Meg approached about her vignettes (and later fell in love with) on the night of the storm. Specifically, he was editor-in-chief of The Daily Globe.

During the period when our lives were in peril, Carmichael did everything in his power to bring our story to the attention of readers, despite the airplane crashes, muggings, and so on which often dominated his front page.

His first attempt to attract attention to our plight was a hastily written poem by his Aunt Honor (Samuel Swerling’s daughter), which he published in the July 5 edition of The Daily Globe one day before Mike Hurwitz kayoed the neo-Nazis and thirteen days after Jarvis Larchmont’s henchmen took over the park.

Carmichael tried to pump up the poem’s importance with a brief introduction, referring to it as an “anthem.” Many readers took him seriously, considered the poem to be a “call to arms,” and memorized its last four lines.

Honor’s aspirations, however, were far less ambitious. She simply called it: The Trees in the Samuel Swerling Park.

The Trees in The Samuel Swerling Park

By Honor Swerling


Some thought they knew (but they did not)

The nature of our trees,

Assuming that they all were grown

With artless, thoughtless ease.


They said (and they were grossly wrong!)

“The trees turned out so right!

Their branches go from there to here

At just a perfect height!


“The limbs conjoin with tree trunks

At an angle that’s divine,

Which verifies one can’t improve

On Nature’s Grand Design.”


That’s what these people said and thought.

And their imperious cries

Evolved into a series of

Defamatory lies.



Those ignorant accusers

Never cared to learn or know

By what ingenious strategies

We’d made our saplings grow.


For purposely, we’d groomed them

In a manner, as you see,

So that they each (methodically)

Became a complex tree!

Each tree was the attainment

Of a calculated plan…

But not a plan of Nature,

Of a sweet and loving man.


Sam Swerling hired an arborist

With whom he did embark

Upon a scheme to build a truly Different kind of park.


A park that was devoted to

A child’s desire to be

Ensconced within the branches of

A loving climbing tree.


So bough and branch and sprig were trained

Toward one deliberate end.

The end of giving children

Living trees they could befriend.


The trees all thrived and Samuel was

Was happy as a lark.

Where else but here could children find

So welcoming a park?


Then came the day (it breaks our hearts),

A bold and bad decree

Was issued that forbade us all

To touch or climb a tree!


And now, the trees are crying, yes.

And all the children, too.

Why such a rule has been imposed?

We haven’t got a clue.


So we will loudly remonstrate

From dawn ‘til late at night;

And try to force The Powers That Be

To change a wrong to right!


We will not rest. We won’t desist.

We will not cease to fight,

Until our trees are free again.

And wrong had turned to right!


After the poem was published, Carmichael invited readers who had spent time in the park to write about their experiences and send them to the newspaper. If they had pictures, he wanted

those, too. He put Meg in charge of editing the submissions, and for two weeks, those recollections and photographs were a regular feature in The Daily Globe.

Each day, Meg also wrote her vignettes.

They were sad.

A few described the many, many children who, of late had tried to hug, pet, or climb one of our trees but had been turned away by Jarvis Larchmont’s thugs. Some vignettes described our regulars – people who had been coming to the park for years – and were heartbroken by what they’d seen.

Meg’s favorite concerned Hercules Hannah and a local cop.

Like so many in the city, the police officer had grown up in the park and climbed most if not all of us at one time or another. He was short, skinny, and very young. Probably no more than twenty-three years old. He had a baby face with nicks on his chin from shaving, and strawberry blond hair that squirted out from under his hat like migratory weeds.

At first, the young patrolman tried to prevent Herk from approaching the tree in question.

In response, Alonso’s son threw back his shoulders and seemed to grow mythologically large, like a genii materializing out of a magic lamp.

Herk took one menacing step forward.

The young police officer took one intimidated step back. Then the cop sighed, shook his head, and said, “This is stupid, Herk. I’m on your side. Screw the rules, and do whatever you want.”

But before Hercules could move another inch, an influx of park department employees appeared out of nowhere, created a human blockade around the tree, and insisted that he retreat.

Hercules could not do a thing.

The cop could not do a thing.

So he shrugged, said to Herk, “Come on, Pal. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee,” and the two men walked away.

Quietly and covertly over those painful few weeks, bonds were being formed and authority was being scorned.

Carmichael, of course, was not the only family member to take action on behalf of his grandfather’s park. Franklin, whom you met earlier when he was up a tree, wooing and winning his beautiful coworker, Genevieve, was not only Samuel’s nephew (Jack’s son), he was also a brilliant constitutional lawyer. As with Carmichael, Esther, and Meg, Franklin’s devotion to the park was unequivocal.

I won’t pretend to understand everything that he was doing, but words like “court order,” “civil suit,” and “injunction” come to mind. It was Franklin’s job to file the legal documents which would force City Hall to release its grip on the Samuel Swerling Park.

I believe that in due time, he would have succeeded.

But we did not have due time.

We did not have any time at all.

Meg and Esther did their best, too. They assumed, and they were partly correct, that we climbing trees were dying of loneliness, so Esther brought Winston the ferret to the park, and Meg brought Butch the cockatiel. Winston climbed my trunk and skittered along my branches, while Butch sang and danced from inside his golden cage.

It was good to feel them.

It was good to hear them.

It was good to know they were there.

But a ferret is not a human being.

And a bird is not a child.

Esther took to standing a few feet from my trunk and reading aloud, ostensibly to Meg and Merritt, but her real purpose was to read aloud to me. She assigned others to recite passages from cheerful stories to the rest of the climbing trees, hoping that in the absence of human touch, their words, thoughts, and ideas would be enough.

However, words are not caresses. A thought is not a child’s happy heartbeat. And ideas can be no more substantial or effective than a blink.

Our health continued to decline.

But the people who loved us kept on fighting.

One of them, Renaldo Caprice, reappeared at the end of the first week of our “occupation,” carrying his easel, canvasses, brushes, and tubes.

He was fifteen years older than when he had first painted us, and his curly brown hair was tinged with gray. But he was still a handsome man, and he had returned with a look of grim determination on his face reminiscent of a picture I had seen in one of Esther’s art books. It was of Bernini’s statue of David, before he flings that fatal stone.

Although Renaldo had left us years ago, it was his painting of our park that first made him famous, and he never forgot the origin of his early success. He felt, in some ways, that he owed us a debt of gratitude. So after reading a newspaper account about our struggle in The Daily Globe, he contacted its editor-in-chief.

In the course of their conversation, the artist offered to paint a pictorial history for the newspaper of what was happening to our trees.

“It is my most profound intention,” he told Carmichael Swerling, “to provide a visual history of their recovery. But if they do not recover, I will paint a chronicle of their inexcusable and tragic decline. Either way, my art will inspire an end to the torture being inflicted upon these truly magnificent trees.”

That, at least, was what Renaldo Caprice believed.


Copyright © 2017, Shelly Reuben

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

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