The Tale of the Eno Hammock, the Limbless Tree, and the Cherry Pie

At CU-Boulder, during the warm months, Eno hammocks, suspended between two trees are a common sight. Students will read, sleep and study while cocooned in the durable, yet comfortable fabric of their Enos.

I bought mine on an impulse. It was one week before finals started, and the weather was really starting to warm up. I was studying Calculus with some friends outside one of the dorms surrounding Kittredge Lake. We quickly noticed a student “hammocking” across the lake in a vibrant orange Eno. He looked so serene under the shade of the trees as his hammock gently swayed back and forth. We all agreed that a hammock break sounded nice, but alas, none of us had one.

“Let’s go get one, right now,” my friend, Emily said.

“Right now?”

“Right now.”

Naturally, I spent a huge chunk of my remaining time at school in my green and blue double-sized Eno. I read, slept and studied (but mostly read and slept) in it, and quickly realized that this had become one of my top ways to kick back and relax.

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me and my Eno, under the cherry tree (you’ll learn about the cherry tree later)

The first thing I did when I moved back home (even before I unpacked my boxes (I actually still haven’t unpacked (oops))) was head to University Park, the park nearest my house, and search for two trees close enough to suspend my hammock between. I was quickly disappointed. No such pair of trees existed. There were so many pairs that were juuuust out of reach, and I was beginning to give up hope, when I realized that I didn’t need two trees to hang my hammock. All I needed was one good tree. And before long, I found it. Deep in the park, this tree had two branches jutting out at almost 90 degree angles from the trunk, and spaced perfectly far apart in a fashion so conducive to hammocking I figured it was fate.

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my hammock under the tree

And of course, it would be this tree. You see, this tree and me had a history (can’t read that without rapping it in my head). It had always been my favorite tree in the park, because it’s branches used to grow all the way to the ground, creating a hemisphere of leafy coverage. I had picnicked beneath it’s branches and taken several “artsy” photos of it, before all of its low-hanging branches were cleaved from it a few years back. Since then, I hadn’t visited it much, but now I’d found a new reason to start again.

I hammocked at that spot a few times before I left for South Africa. I considered bringing my hammock with me on my trip, but decided to leave it behind to conserve space in my suitcase. Toward the end of my month abroad, I was beginning to really miss home, and thoughts of family, my dogs, and hammocking under the tree filled my head. Within the first few days of returning home, I went back to the tree for what, unbeknownst to me at the time, turned out to be the last time I would hammock from it. I took my dog, Gracie, read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, then packed up and went home.

The next day I returned to the tree, only to discover that the two branches I used to support my hammock were gone: cut off cleanly at the trunk, with only sawdust remaining. Presumably, I was very distressed and spent several moments just staring at the tree. It looked so lopsided now :( This couldn’t have been a coincidence. Somebody cut these down because I was hammocking and they didn’t like it. I decided to investigate.

Naturally, I called Pueblo Parks and Recreation to inquire if somebody had complained about me and if maintenance then came to cut off the branches. As the phone rang, I kept constructing all the different scenarios that might possibly play out once the person at the other end picked up. You know what I’m talking about: when you expect conflict between another person, so you rehearse what you will tentatively say, and predict what the other person will say back and yada yada yada. Of course, I would start the conversation politely, but if things got out of hand, yeah, I was totally ready for a throw-down.

“Hello?” The man on the other end said.

“Hi, yes. My name is Paul Rastrelli and I live by University Park. I’m calling because one of the trees at the park I used to hang my hammock from had it’s branches cut off. I’m just wondering if somebody called you guys and complained and if you know anything about that.”

“Paul Rastrelli? This is John Gordon!”

As it turns out, one of the security officers at my high school whom I was close with also worked for Parks and Rec. After I explained in more detail my fondness of the tree and the suspicious correlation between my hammocking and the tree’s multiple amputations, John wanted to meet me at University Park and see the tree for himself. We met fifteen minutes later at the playground and proceeded to walk to the tree.

“You know,” John said, “hammocking is not allowed in the parks.”

“Really?” I asked. “Why not?” Even though I already knew the answer.

“Because the straps could damage the trees. But let me be honest: we have way bigger fish to fry than somebody hanging in a hammock.”

“Yeah, but I actually use towels to pad the straps,” I replied. “That’s what they have us do at CU-Boulder.”

As we neared the tree, John inspected it for a few moments, speculating that this was indeed the work of maintenance, due to the indication of a chainsaw. He pulled a radio out of his pocket and (no joke) radioed the “main tree guy” of all the parks in the city and asked him if there was any report of recent trimming of trees in University Park. The main tree guy replied with a negative.

“Well, I really don’t know who did this,” John said as we walked back to our cars. “Maybe somebody just forgot to report it at the office. But these cuts don’t look like they were made to benefit the tree. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.”

Well the mystery of who cut off the branches remained unsolved because John never got back to me. For days I mulled over what I knew. 1. The tree had the two branches I needed to hang my hammock cut off. 2. According to John, it looked like the work of maintenance because a chainsaw was used, but 3. The tree was harmed, not helped, by the amputations which points to a culprit other than maintenance. 4. I was not technically allowed to hammock in the park. It all seemed too incidental to be a coincidence. I was still convinced that the branches were cut off because of me. I thought of leaving a note on the tree asking whoever cut off the branches to “please call me at (insert my cell number here)”, but decided that all I would receive would be endless prank calls.

By now you might be wondering why the hell I still cared about figuring all this out. The tree was already limbless. That was an irrevocable fact. Why didn’t I just let it go? Well, first of all, I did end up letting it go, eventually. But I guess my answer would be that I wanted to chastise the person who cut off the branches. I envisioned myself acting as a diplomat for the trees in the park, preventing future senseless acts of violence against them, as ridiculous as that sounds. Also, I really wanted to have the last word in this whole ordeal.

Except none of that happened. As of now, I have yet to figure out who cut off the branches and whether or not I was the reason why they did. But I’ve stopped trying to figure it out because (here comes the silver lining): I found another tree!

It happened about a week after the incident. That day I was particularly missing my Eno and decided to return to the park and look once more for a suitable tree. The cherry tree I ended up finding is on the polar opposite side of the park of the first tree. At the time, it was covered with thousands of ripe sour cherries. It is the only tree I know of in the park that produces fruit. I now use two of its branches to hang my Eno, its shade to keep cool while I lounge, and (get this!) its cherries to make cherry pies! It turns out that the sour cherries are perfect for making a bomb cherry pie, and I’ve made two already!

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look at these little nuggets

My family has returned to the tree with me to collect more cherries to freeze for future use. Apparently the season for sour cherries is short because all of the remaining cherries are already starting to rot. And if you are concerned like I briefly was about this tree being cut down, the people who live near this tree don’t mind if I hammock there. I asked them and they said they couldn’t care less, and acted kind of weirded out that I was even asking them in the first place (if only they knew).

I guess the moral of this lengthly tale is that sometimes you just have to let the past go, because when one door closes, another opens. (Feel free to insert any other cheesy message here) But the weird thing is that my family has been visiting that park for 16 years, and until I found the cherry tree a few weeks ago, none of us knew it existed. So maybe a better theme would be: explore every corner of what you think you already know, because you never know what you might have overlooked.

Ladies and gentlemen, the cherry pie I made from scratch:

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showing my pie off to my friend, Kristina

 

-Paul

Have you ever?

Have you ever read something, watched something or heard something that resonated with you so deeply, so profoundly, that you wish you had been the one who created it? That your name was on the front cover, on the rolling credits, or under the song title? Have you experienced a form of art that so perfectly encapsulated a feeling you so often feel, yet can’t articulate, that you wish you had arrived at the right words first? Have you?

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Longreads’ Best of WordPress, Vol. 1

The WordPress.com Blog

Here’s the first official edition of Longreads’ Best of WordPress! We’ve scoured 22% of the internet to create a reading list of great storytelling — from publishers you already know and love, to some that you may be discovering for the first time.

We’ll be doing more of these reading lists in the weeks and months to come. If you read or publish a story on WordPress that’s over 1,500 words, share it with us: just tag it #longreads on Twitter, or use the longreads tag on WordPress.com.

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Tickets for Restaurants (Nick Kokonas, Alinea)

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How the owners of world-class restaurants including Alinea created their own custom ticketing system:

Though I hadn’t the faintest idea how we would sell tickets, Grant and I included the line: “Tickets, yes tickets, go on sale soon…” in the announcement ‘trailer’ for Next. That was meant to do three things: 1) gauge…

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20

Well, this is it: the final few hours of my teenage years. Tomorrow I will be 20… Damn, that sounds so freaking old! It sounds “I don’t know if I’ll be able to blow out all the candles on my birthday cake with one breath” old.

When I was younger, numbers like “20” and beyond represented things like birthday money, minutes in time-out, and answers to “what is 4 times 5?”, not the number of years I have been alive. Now here I am. And I feel old, which is funny because really, I’m not at all. And besides, age is just a number, right? Then again, tell that to my 20 grey hairs.

What is the ideal thing to say when people ask you what your future plans are, and you have no idea whatsoever? Recently, I’ve been going with “I plan to write fan fiction online and get famous, like that Fifty Shades of Grey lady!” The reactions are great; if you are in a similar boat you should try it sometime. But in all seriousness, I guess the best way to describe my current “life path” would be that I have been waiting to become spectacular.

The truth is I have a ton of ambitions for my life: I want to write at least one novel and get it published, I want to become fluent in (at least) Spanish, I want to run a non-profit organization (or start my own), learn how to program, travel the world, and hey, why not get featured in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People issue? Just like everyone else my age, I am young, naive, and ready to change the world!

Now let’s disregard the fact that statically speaking, my impact on the world will be minimal. Let’s pretend that I can change the world, if I just work hard enough, become accomplished enough, become spectacular enough. That all it takes is a little elbow grease. For some reason, I do not have the drive to even make small steps toward achieving any of the above goals. I do not write nearly enough to write a novel, much less get it published. I am not using the Rosetta Stone software I got for Christmas last year. I am not going online and teaching myself Java. I am not taking these simple steps.

Why am I not taking more initiative? Good question. Sometimes I think it’s because my aspirations aren’t really aspirations, just things that sound cool or that will make me look cool in other people’s eyes. Sometimes I think it is because I am lazy. Mostly, I think it is because I am growing up and accepting defeat.

This may be a grim outlook on growing up, but I feel like getting older translates to settling. Settling for that not-so-great job. Settling for the minivan because it will be better for the kids. Settling with never being spectacular.

Sometimes I feel like if I was supposed to write a best-seller, or start a world-renowned non-profit, I would have seen something within myself by now. I would have more confidence. And I would have physically done something by now. You think you have what it takes, Paul? Where’s the evidence? That’s what I thought.

It’s a pretty depressing state of mind.

Maybe all this worrying will only result in more grey hairs (I’ve already settled with the fact that I am going to be grey by the time I’m 25). But maybe it’s a wakeup call.

Maybe I need to start realizing that living a spectacular life can be achieved today, right now. That by living authentically each day and cultivating genuine friendships, I can mean the world to at least one person, and shouldn’t that be the equivalent to meaning something to the whole world? Maybe I need to realize that life is about things far deeper than what I can physically produce. That it’s about family dinners, meaningful conversations, playing with my dogs, and sharing favorite books with friends. It’s about commiserating with friends about our shared fear of never being spectacular, but at the end of the day being okay with the way our lives are/are heading, because we are all in it together, this weird thing called “life.”

And if I want to achieve my life’s aspirations, then great! But I should achieve them for myself, not to appear accomplished in the eyes of others. And there is no rush in achieving them, either. As long as I remain happy with the things I have done and the person I am, then there won’t be much room for complaint.

And if along the way I change the world, that’s icing on the birthday cake.

 

 

 

 

(But I still want to change the world)

-Paul