There is a tree on the trail that runs along the Winooski River. (Yes, that trail. I promise I won’t always talk about it, but, boy, is it full of treasures…) There are many trees, of course, but this one catches my eye more than the others. It’s a Hackberry tree, and it seems to be the only one of its kind along the trail. It is a beautiful tree—tall and slender, with a cork-like bark and red-purple berries that stay on its branches through the winter. A haven for hungry cedar waxwings, woodpeckers and many other birds.
This is not why it catches my eye though.
The reason I stop and study it is because there is a snake in the tree. Long and thick, it winds its way from the dirt all the way up the trunk and into the branches high above my head. I can’t see its eyes or its tongue, but I imagine they are up there—watching me, sensing me—in the Hackberry’s tallest branches. It has a view of the river, and the road above the trail, and the sky above it all.
The snake is not a real snake, of course. It is a wild grapevine.
The woody vine begins in the ground, its roots just as dug into the earth. And then it climbs. For the first ten feet or so, it is parallel to the tree, and then it circles its way around the tree’s trunk. It is an old vine, so its bark is ragged and is shedding in long strips. The vine slithers further up the tree, around branches, and gets thinner the higher it gets. See how it could look like a snake?
And this morning, as I engaged in my ritual of stopping and studying it, I had the strongest feeling that I was standing beneath Grandmother Moccasin. The Grandmother Moccasin. Kathi Appelt’s mighty and eternal snake from The Underneath.
The muddy earth, the sound of the water rolling by the trail, the occasional splash by a fish or a bird, the deep green of the ferns, the sun filtered through the thick trees, the smell of wood decaying. It could be the Texas Bayou, couldn’t it?