The Night It Happened
by Scott Honeycutt
On January 6, 2012, in Seminole County, Florida, a 3,500 year old bald cypress known as The Senator was torched by a woman attempting to smoke methamphetamine inside its trunk. This is written from her perspective.
Yes, I caused it to light up.
When it comes to harming a thing, I suppose, I was always one to go to it. But listen to me. It weren’t done out of meanness. It was done out of my own disregard, my own attempt to flee from something, into something else. It was the light that was all it was lacking, and I guess I gave it that. The light I mean. And to tell you the truth, it sure was a lovely glow that old tree put up to the night stars. It looked like a like chimney all stocked and heavy with timber, and it smelled like Christmas well into January. I kept muttering, “That tree’s older than Jesus, and only God knows its name.”
I first saw that Senator tree when I was twelve years old. We had just moved to Seminole County, and my daddy took Susan and me over to see it one day after church. We ate chicken and slaw in the parking area and then walked over to it through the palmettos and brushy wire-grass. The grass tickled my legs and Susan said, “Sara, this place looks like the garden.” And I guess it did. Daddy, Sara, and me was the only ones attending, and after walking about 200 yards, I looked up and there it stood. Like an arrow quivered ground-ward, the tree didn’t sway against the wind. It just parked its long barked body in the dirt and seemed to merely put with all things in nature. Like it knew wisdoms, or histories, or something. Anyway, Daddy told us that tree was called a bald cypress and that God himself had planted its kind back among the cedars of Lebanon in the Bible and that God instructed Noah to build his ark out of gopher wood, which was what they called cypress trees back in the bible days. And build it he did.
That night it happened, I wasn’t feeling right. These pipes get to you after a while, and my apartment was crowded with folks unkind and unknowing what it means to feel deeply, so I just slipped into the cool of the night, barefooted. I wasn’t missed. My place is only about a mile from The Senator and at first, I didn’t plan to go there. I just wanted to circle around, clear my head. But somehow my feet kept walking toward the park, step by step. They were determined. When I finally reached the old tree, I don’t know why but I just gazed and gazed on it. Even in evening dark, The Senator was a black arrow that drew all the shadows to it. This place is a lot older than Mickey Mouse and his kin, and something powerful like medicine reached out to me and pushed all the known Orlando back beyond light and beyond revenue. I wanted to get close, to get … I don’t know … to get among it … to get into it. I lifted my legs over the chain-link fence and crossed over toward it. I reached and touched the old thing, feeling my hands on its roughy bark. After a minute of groping along the sides, I felt a cleft in The Senator. The opening was narrow and deep and without word I squeezed in. Then the hunger came back to me there in the dark of the darkness. I could almost laugh now thinking about it. There in the belly of The Senator my own belly was letting me know it was time to water my need. I took off my shirt in the black and folded it as neatly as I could on the dry ground. Next, I built a squire-nest of twigs and wood-stuff, and then lit my matches – the whole pack went up.
The kindling caught fast and before I understood, the inside of The Senator was aflame. Before I retreated from the heat, I looked up past my knees and belly, past my breasts and smoking pipe, up through the narrows of the tree. It looked all knotty and ghastly filling up with smoke. But the light. The light. It pushed the shadows from the interior of tree and all of time was swirling in my mind. There was the rush of my self-induced state and there was the power of the flame. I was the source and nest. I was the night and the morning come too soon. And then I fled. And then I fled.
Yes, I caused it to light up.
When it comes to harming a thing, I suppose, I was always one to go to it. But listen, again, to me. It weren’t done out of meanness. It was done out of my own disregard, my own attempt to flee from something, into something else. It was the light that was all it was lacking, and I guess I gave it that. The light I mean. And to tell you the truth, the honest, blood-washed truth, it sure was a lovely glow that old tree put up to the night stars. It looked like a like chimney all stocked and heavy with timber, and it smelled like Christmas well into January. I kept muttering, “That tree’s older than Jesus, and only God told me its name.”
Scott Honeycutt was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, and has lived throughout the Old Dominion as well as Tennessee and Georgia. He currently makes his home in Johnson City, Tennessee. With any luck, he will never be leaving the Southern mountains.