By Nancy Peregrine
What I remember first is the rough coolness as I reached down through the wet leaves for a sure handhold. My right hand it was, grasping around a branch that just fit my four year old size. I felt more secure then as I stepped onto a solid but sloping trunk. How strange and wonderful to walk on a tree as it lay down instead of up. I had tried to climb into such great maples but never could have gone so high nor played among its boughs when it was standing up. I was a fairy in a magical world only birds and squirrels could know.
I explored a bit – finding twiggy nests, moss like lace, and ferns that cradled drops of rain from last night’s October storm. Most interesting were the sparks dancing on the wires woven through the branches. Probably, I thought, the tree had brought them from the sky where the winds were, but now they writhed black and ugly, like the big snakes in my cousin’s jungle book. I didn’t like their smell.
My parents had been glad enough to see me off to Sunday School on that brightening October day dappled with iridescent puddles. I had walked a slight mile across the Skagit River Bridge toward the white steepled church but found trees tossed everywhere. I wished the Gillis kids who lived down the road were with me. I knew they wouldn’t be afraid to play with the cables as they sparked and tossed with their own energy. My mother called them tar heels, but they were such fun – playing tag, London Bridge, and hide and seek. Their grandmother sang at the piano squeezed next to the kitchen table in their house, which was always so warm and smelled of biscuits and the laundry water boiling on the wood stove. My favorite was the Sears catalogue in the outhouse which we didn’t have.
I knew if I stayed too long in this enchantment I would be late for church. The music, my favorite part, would start without me. I especially liked “Jesus Loves Me.” I began to hurry through the canopy, humming like a monkey, trying not to slip onto the highway or tear my dress. Ahead I heard shouting, and saw men running toward me waving their arms. “Stop!” They screamed. “Stop! Stop!” Someone yanked me down and away from the embrace of the limbs and set me hard onto the solid pavement.
“We’ll walk you to church from here,” a big beard said. “There’s more down wires ahead, but we’ve pulled them away so you won’t get hurt.” Chain saws started up in the distance and so did the church piano, so I trotted hand in hand with the big plaid shirt and slid in just in time for “Onward Christian Soldiers.” A prayer or two later, I went with the other children downstairs for crafts and story time. I was focused on coloring Jesus and his sheep when shadow flicked across the table. I looked out and saw my father’s legs run by the window toward the back door. “How lucky, “I thought. “He’s come to see my picture.”
His face, usually twinkling with humor, wasn’t smiling; it was wild with worry. He snatched me up from the table – my picture and crayons falling to the floor. My teeth pressed against the rough wool of his shoulder. I felt his quick gasps of breath as he hugged me close. “Let’s go,” he said. “Why can’t I stay and finish?” I asked. He nodded to the teacher. Without a word we walked out of the church basement toward home.
The trees were in pieces by then and seemed more wounded than magical. My father set me down and through the drone of chainsaws and power company trucks, and gently explained about the wires that carried electricity from Diablo Dam to Seattle. “But,” I said, “Jesus loves me, and He held my hand through the branches and the wires so I could get to church.”
Nancy Peregrine began attending Grace about six months after moving to Hansville from Vashon Island in 2012, where she was a member of Church of the Holy Spirit. She is not only a life long Episcopalian, but a legacy one as well: she discovered that her great grandfather, Simon Peregrine, was a pillar of the community of Tenino and of the local Episcopal church there. “So I come by it naturally,” she says. She has always loved the act of “going to church” and believes it probably started with the little Baptist Church in Marblemount which features into this story.