Pepper Trees


Crush a pepper tree leaf and smell the pungent sap.  The world around me dissolves and I’m eight years old again climbing the old pepper tree on Oak Creek Drive. We had two big trees, but it was the one near the hen house where we spent so much time.

The older boys had built tree houses there and outgrown them.  My best friend and I inherited them.  The were two good-sized platforms and two smaller ones.

Our pepper tree forts were in that tree in the middle. But it was much larger when I was 8.

We would climb the ragged trunks to our favorite spot.  We added a few 2x4s, borrowing the hammer from Dad’s shop, and keeping a stash of big nails in a coffee can, which itself was nailed to a joist.  The wood is soft and took all the nails we hammered into it; within minutes white thick sticky sap spilled from the wound.  It had a peppery smell, but not as strong as the leaves.  It stuck to fingers and arms and legs, collected dirt to cover us in smudge scars.  We hung up pictures we liked, made shelves, kept magazines and toys there.

I wonder what we did the last time we were in the pepper trees.  There’s no knowledge that it was the the last time.  Someone said once we commemorate so many firsts in our lives, but often never know the final time we do something.  At some point I walked away from the pepper tree fort, but if I smell that crushed leaf, I instantly return.

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