Method to the Madness: The Giving Tree

 Scott Todnem
“In my life, I’ve lived, I’ve loved, I’ve lost, I’ve missed, I’ve hurt, I’ve trusted, I’ve made mistakes, but most of all I’ve learned.
– Unknown

Atop a man-made hill and without conversation, the three of us grabbed hold of a low-hanging tree branch, and with our combined bodyweight, broke the big limb straight off the trunk of the tree.

It was a thick branch, but we took it down in a split second with an echoing snap.

It started without the need for a plan; we acted without regard for an outcome. Wandering around after school, tired of our playground basketball game that day, we waited for our parents to be done with work. Dark was nearing, the base was clearing, and we happened upon the tree. And so, without words, one at a time, we hung from the branch, the shortest and lightest of us first, then the next, and then me, the tallest, heaviest 6th grader of the three—of most of our grade in school, for that matter. Watching the branch bow before me, I jumped on, laughing in the process I was swept up in: a goofy, early adolescent boy stunt.

It’s just a tree branch, who the hell cares? It couldn’t possibly break anyway… right?

With a swift crack of wooden flesh, down we fell, straight to the ground, and fast, with the heavy branch torn away and still in our hands. A piece of the fresh, green-brown bark peeled down the trunk; the only connection left was at the very bottom near the grass. A minuscule attachment, like that of a clipped fingernail not yet ready to let go.

There we were, in a pile on our backs, panting in pained hilarity at the fact that we just tore the arm off a living beast. We laid there writhing with our prize, the limb, cradling it like a branch baby in our arms.

Out shot a teacher. As quick as that tree branch crack, here came a 40-something-year-old man in a white short-sleeve shirt and tie… a high school science or social studies teacher from the looks of it. He burst through the external school door, leaving it behind like cannon smoke, interrupted in what must have been his daily grading ritual with the sight he had witnessed through the window: three young punks trashing his view. And trashing the world in the meantime.

There was a gut-wrenching feeling of guilt inside as I shoved the branch forward and jumped up to run away. Swift-footed and athletic in our youth, we could’ve jetted out of there, no problem, no consequence. But we stayed. All of us. For whatever reason, none of us fled. We stayed to face the reprimand, frozen in a hazy mist of what had happened just seconds ago. We stood still and at attention, like 5pm, on the dot, of any day on base as the national anthem played over the loudspeakers and demanded our respect. Military life knew no other way. You stopped, you stood, and you faced the music.

Outwardly disturbed and visibly shaking beneath his black-rimmed glasses, he shouted as he stormed up the small hill.

“What in the world are you boys doing?!”

• • •

This here writing website started up last January after an idea I had about one year ago.

The concept was to have a meeting place for writers to come and do what they do: write. A creative outlet meant to prompt inward thinking for an outward product.

I wanted to add interested contributors of all walks of life and at all experience levels within the hobby of writing. I thought it would be entertaining, educational, and maybe most of all cathartic to host one monthly topic with many different viewpoints.

In the past year, I have accomplished a personal goal of writing on each topic, of taking every one of these monthly idiom themes to use for introspection before putting a piece together for the public… all in hopes that others might read and nod in recognition, or scroll through the words in empathy, or maybe even chuckle with similar memories. But also in hopes that I learn something along the way. I wanted practice in this craft– at pouring myself into a written piece in ways that might scare me. To put myself out there and find relief in having done so.

For these stories, I rarely start with an outline. I just start writing. At some point, I see a tangent emerge that will allow a method to the madness to formulate. It rises up to meet my feet on the proverbial road towards publishing.

It was at some point between childhood and adulthood, at some point in all of the time periods within the stories I’ve told in the past twelve months, where I realized something similar. There is a method in the madness, if you know where to look and what to look for. I realized I could either build this world up or tear this world apart. The story above of the broken tree branch very obviously embodies that.

I can forever impact the things around me, and it is my choice whether that impact will be for the benefit of existence, or the opposite. Whether I will rip the branch off a tree, or plant the seed of thought into another person’s mind.

There is a load of talent within our Writer’s Block here that deserves attention. These fellow wordsmiths have stories of success and heartache, of mistakes and wonder, and they deserve an outlet, a voice. It makes me swell with pride to be able to read their narratives and share in spreading their stories, so personal and pure and emotionally charged. Check them out and give them feedback in their efforts. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Very often I find myself busy in the mess of the week-to-week. It is all too often a chaotic scramble to the weekend, and I have come to dread the disarray. Amidst all this, within the storm of thoughts, feelings, and actions each month and throughout the year, I am fortunate to keep learning, to find a calm, to see a method in the madness, and to plant an idea to blossom in the heads of others as I attempt to give back to this tree-filled world of which I have taken so much.


2 thoughts on “Method to the Madness: The Giving Tree

  1. As my battery runs low on my electronic device, I see these three lads( as the Brits would say), Scott, Mark and Dennis, looking for some sort of adventure to while away the time. My heart leaps with pride as you stand to own up to what had transpired. I grin, protecting, the nature of my first born. How grateful I remain that a seemingly random youthful experience sends connections to life in your present and future. Having just visited the very site of your experience, I pondered what I, and those I loved, derived from such a place. Sometimes, it comes round much later.

  2. There is always a method to our madness – sometimes we get sucked up in following, but you can easily get caught up in the tide (you know who said that – you introduced him:)) It is better to swim on our own and fight the tide. Great story – glad I clicked and read – i didn;t bite the bullet, I was caught up fighting the tide, in a way. Take care and enjoy your weekend. See you Monday!

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