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what's liberty for, if not this?

book cover The Trees of Eden denim with flower

Excerpt from

The Trees of Eden

   Chapter One     

“Do you think they’ll grow if we plant them?” I whispered to my older brother through still-sweet lips. I was pawing at five dark, teardrop seeds, wet and pulpy from the snack we had just shared out on the front porch.

     It was early summer then, in a dry, flat, arid valley of Colorado where the wind can uproot trees, and it rarely rains. But when it does rain, it comes down with the fury of a thunderstorm. The winter’s rage is far different. The sky can be blue and the sun shining, but the air is so bitter cold that it takes substance as glistening flecks. It only warms up when it snows, and sticky seeds outdoors would invite frostbitten fingers even then. I was thankful, therefore, for the dawn of summer.

     “Isaac says the apples we get from the store don’t grow things.” My brother Hakim shrugged his string bean arms.

     “But we didn’t get these apples from the store. We got them from the farmers’ market, remember? McIntosh. Dad’s favorite.” My optimism sprouted. “He’d be so happy to have his own tree. And we could climb it, Hakim!”

     “Jubilee, it takes years to get apples from a tree and decades to be able to climb it,” Hakim resolved, ever the realist.

     “Oh. I didn’t think about that.” I nearly tossed the seeds in the nearby garbage.

     “But,” Hakim started, perking up with a sense of adventure. “We won’t know for sure unless we plant them. Worst-case scenario, you’ll have to wait and watch your children climb it.”

     “We should ride until we find the tallest, greenest grass. We’ll plant the seeds there.” I revived the dream, skipping out into the horse corral where the chestnut Thunder and gray Lightning were already saddled. We’d received and named the horses late the previous summer, a day after we had been enthralled by the power of a Colorado thunderstorm.

     The greenest grass turned out to be along the fence—our furthest dictated boundary at ten and twelve. Hakim suggested we venture just across it, where our neighbor had a miniature pond forming at the edge of his eighty acres from all the recent rain. They would likely never know if someone had breached the boundary, and Hakim said as much. Our father would also never know.      Still, I protested.

     “We’re not allowed to go past the fence, Hakim. We’d have to do it all the time if we had a tree there. I don’t even want to do it once.”

     Hakim did it with a roll of his black eyes, but he agreed. The seeds were planted with unskilled hands in sandy soil ten feet from the edge of our parents’ property. We marked it with the largest rock we could find, then ventured back home, careful to make it back in time for supper, as instructed.

     Our father met us at the porch. We could see him waiting there for ten minutes as we led the horses into the corral, unsaddled them, and dragged our feet to our father.

     “Where were you?” Dad boomed.

     “We were out by the fence. Jubilee wanted to—”

     Our father interrupted. “You were out of your mother’s line of sight. Anything could have happened, and she would not have been aware.”

     “But Daddy, you didn’t say we had to stay in Mom’s sight. You said we couldn’t go past the fence, and we didn’t,” I pleaded.

     “And we came back before dinner like Mom told us,” Hakim appealed. He later told me he was glad for my choice to bring only obedience before our father.

     But for our father, obedience wasn’t always enough.

     Adam Monroe, the man I call Dad, is a serious man. A great big, balding, gray-haired, wire-framed glasses around dark eyes, serious man. I supposed at the time that someone as wise as Dad would have to be that serious. He never spared us that wisdom.

     “Children, never take liberty to the outermost limit. It should have been clear to you that you should not even venture near the fence and that you must stay within your mother’s sight. I want you safe. I didn’t bring you two from the furthest reaches of the world and love you as my own to have some evil befall you here. Understood?”

     Dad’s brief lecture left us stunned until we mumbled a Yes sir in unison. We had given up the fight with ease because Dad hardly, if ever, mentioned our adoptive origins. It meant he was making a grave point that should never be contested. Stay within Mom’s sight. Never venture near the boundary. Otherwise, you are not grateful for escaping the “furthest reaches.”

     For a day or two, I was heartbroken that I’d never get to go tend those apple seeds. Within a week, I understood how foolish I’d been to have planted them in such a harsh climate anyway. Still, for a month, I wondered if they might sprout. Though the lessons from that day remained, like rings of a tree remember, those seeds eventually went dormant in the innermost gardens of my mind. I’d sown memories there before, but not all remain dormant. One does not forget the furthest reaches.

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