Chutzpah – or “You can't get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you're doing, but what you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover will be yourself.” - Alan Alda
Climbing the tree was the easy part. The hard part was not allowing herself to stop and sample the fruit. The aroma was stronger here than in the shaded lawn below, but not unpleasant. In fact the scents of apples and peaches mingled seamlessly into an essence all their own. Three months earlier it had been cherries, which blended in with the pears toward the end of their season. She had marveled at this tree for the last twenty years but never had the chutzpah to climb it.
Chutzpah. She was thinking of words like that. Had she said it out loud? Her day was becoming as remarkable as the tree.
Obviously it had been grafted, several times if the variety of fruits the tree bore was any indication. She had never heard of such a thing. Nor had she considered it unnatural during the many years she had lived in the house at the edge of this grove. Or copse? If a tree had chutzpah, would it live in a grove, a copse, or a woods? These thoughts were really becoming annoying. She concentrated on pulling herself up to the next branch.
She had watched the tree grow and flower, drop petals, fruit, and leaves in a perpetual cycle for these many years. A part of her had always loved the tree. When she looked at its outline in whatever season, she always thought, “That is the perfect tree.” Especially in winter. Its branches rose gracefully, in perfect balance with each other. She had often thought about drawing the tree during winter, the way the art teacher had taught her in fourth grade. Starting at the roots, you drew a tree the way it grew – from under the ground up to its branches, the many branches forming a thicker trunk with each line. One line of the living tree had a beautiful curve where it forked away from the trunk. It occurred to her that she had been watching this tree from the bedroom window in her house at the edge of the woods for so long that she knew it as well as her hand – each swollen knuckle and age spot. The image of the tree blended seamlessly into the history of her life in this place.
She paused to get her bearings. It seemed she had been climbing for hours, but that couldn’t be true. She moved a small branch aside to try and see how far she was from the ground. But the leaves were so thick she could see neither up nor down through the breathing green around her, broken sporadically by a red apple or glowing peach. It was so relaxing to be here, with no sense of in or out, East or West, come or go. She knew only that she was above the earth and below the sky, feeling her hands and the soles of her feet meet and nearly embrace (if they could not encircle) the living bark of the tree. And suddenly she was aware of the house. The tree house she had glimpsed from her house just this year.
The house had been her goal at the start of her climb, but she had become so enthralled by the fruit and then her thoughts that she had almost forgotten about it. Now that she was here, she remembered why she had come – or climbed. She knew that the house was nearly at the top of the tree, so she must be at least 40 feet in the air.
“Thirty-seven, actually.” A face appeared at the window of the house. “Thirty-seven feet, dear. Very tall for a fruit tree, don’t you think?”
She jumped a bit, and one foot slipped from the branch she was resting her feet on. She had already sat down – or against – one of the larger branches, thank God. She might have fallen, otherwise.
“ Oh, so sorry I startled you. I was sure you knew I was here, or why climb this tree? The fruit is lovely, but it does fall when it’s ripe – so climbing is truly unnecessary. I expected you wanted to have a visit, meet the new neighbor type thing.”
“Yes. Yes, I believe I did want to see who was here – who built this house. It’s been such a strange day I had forgotten that was what I was doing. I do that a lot lately. So, this is your tree-house, is it?”
“Tree, house, words are such malleable creatures. The two ideas seem as unlikely a combination as winter and branches, but they blend - seamlessly in this case – to form a new idea altogether. Have you noticed that about words?”
“Yes. Yes, in fact, I had noticed again, lately. I used to play with words nearly all the time. But I hadn’t thought about it at all until recently.” She suddenly realized she had been thinking about writing again, although she couldn’t say when or how she thought of it at all. That, and she had just said “yes” more times in a minute than she had in a year.
“Well,” her strange new neighbor said, “writing takes chutzpah, you know. I think you may be finding you have more chutzpah than you ever imagined.”
“Yes,” she replied, “I do believe I have chutzpah. And I may have learned it from this tree!” And then she realized that what she had said sounded absurd, but she didn’t mind that at all. And she was smiling.