I remember, as a kid, an old Tamarack tree that guarded our well at the hunt camp. By day, I would hunt grouse in, and around, its lower branches. At night, it became a dark and spooky place that little kids tried to stay away from.
It was a diabolical place for a kid with an overactive imagination. On one dark, cold deer season night – I found out the hard way.
I was starting to enjoy the warmth of the camp stove when dad announced that we were out of water. Normally, I would not worry about such a comment – but this time his voice sounded different.
Perhaps, it was his “I am looking at YOU kid!“, stare as he reached for my hunting coat and flashlight. A feeling of impending doom began to surge through my entire body. Outside, a slight breeze began to awaken the fang-like needles of an old tamarack.
Sensing my fear and hesitation, dad pulled me out of my overly-vivid imagination by reminding not to be afraid of the dark.
“It’s time you got used to walking alone at night.”
I felt like reminding him that it was not the dark that scared me. It was that old tamarack tree.
Slowly, dad ushered me to the cabin door and armed my right hand with his maglight. Into my left hand he stuffed the water pot. The door creaked closed behind me as I headed down the foreboding trail to the well. Everything was fine until the trees around me began to shuffle closer together. They managed to block the waning light coming from the cabin windows. Soon, the beacons of hope were quickly overcome by the surrounding darkness.
I was their’s now. Their shadowed branches, like giant fingers, crept out towards me. I did what any kid would do.
I started whistling. This was a mistake.
My barely audible tune woke up the ‘beast of beasts’ lurking under the branches of pine, spruce and tamarack tendrils. The beaked monster circled around me. It was attempting to block my approach to the well.
I ran faster and it kept pace. I dove behind an old tree stump, held my breath and waited. The giant grouse missed my diving maneuver and noisily crashed, with a thunderous flap, into the surrounding night.
I peered around the stump and my shaking light illuminated a small section of the well. I ran from my hiding place and made a final, timid approach to the well.
I tripped on the tamarack’s gnarly roots and landed looking up into the tree’s needled gaze. The old tree snickered as yellowing needles rained down around me. In the attack, a had lost track of my flashlight. However, through the moonlight, I could see the water pail resting against the side of the well. I crawled over to the well, like a war wearied soldier, and slid the well’s lid open to dip the pail into its dark waters. In the darkness, I attempted to confirm the contents within the shivering pail.
It was full of tamarack needles. The rooted sentry seemed to snicker.
I poured the water back into the sandy well and re-dipped the pot. Just then, a branched cracked. The grouse was preparing a counter-attack. I slid the lid back onto the well and rallied my legs to reach their top, child-like speed. Drops of water spewed out with every step. I did not slow down until I was safely within the flickering glow of the cabin’s windows. When the door flew open I handed my watery prize to dad.
His reaction was mixed and definitely not what I expected. He brought the pot closer to the light and, together, we saw water that the water was clouded with sand and yellowing tamarack needles.
It looked like a kind of tamarack tea.
“You poured the water back into the well didn’t you?”, he sternly asked, “We can’t drink this and it will take a day or two for the sand to settle again”. I thought about telling him about the scary grouse, moving branches and the snickering tamarack.
Across the room, Grandpa chuckled quietly; as if to remind my dad of a time long ago when his son did the same thing.
Two days later dad took me back to the well (at night) and showed me how to get a better portion of clear water.
There were no gnarly branched tendrils.
No stalking grouses.
No tamarack sneers.
Bringing this story back to the present. I am looking across the cabin’s room at my daughter. I am wondering when it will be her turn to go for some tamarack tea.
Out in the dark an old tree began to snicker with the sound of tamarack needles falling…
Tree Photo by: clipart.email