SOME TREES by Christine Pakkala

When my sister, Kathy, and I were young girls growing up in Idaho and Washington, we lived in houses surrounded by trees. We got to know many trees because we were always moving, first because our parents divorced, and then because our stepfather could not make the house payments. Each house was a little smaller, a little colder and darker. But the trees were always grand, as if our stepfather’s situation could not touch them. The fourth house was even on a street named for trees—Elm Street.

All that changed the spring I turned seven, and Kathy eight. My stepfather, Neal, couldn’t make the rent on the Elm Street house. We moved for the fifth time—in the middle of the night—piling our five dogs and our belongings in the back of his round-top pick-up truck—to a little town called Asotin, in a trailer park. There, the trees seemed to agree that our family truly was destitute. The trailer park was set into the side of a barren hillside rising up from the river canyon. There nothing but scrub grew—sagebrush, small prickly pear cactus, yellow star thistle, cheat grass. Farther up, there was pine, and down below, by the creek bottom, there were willows and cottonwoods. But where we were, there was nothing to obstruct our view. We could look across the Snake River and see Idaho, where our real Dad lived with his new wife Rita, and that gave us a thrill, almost like going home.

Even though we no longer enjoyed the shade of leafy trees, trees still offered us an indirect sort of protection, in the form of the lumber mill in Lewiston, where Neal sometimes got work. When he did, he drove back down the river road that was wedged between the Snake and a cliff of rock. There was a sign on the road, bluntly saying “Falling Rock.” Kathy and I wished for a boulder to flatten Neal’s truck, the way a thumb casually wipes away a gnat.

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Christine Pakkala grew up in Idaho. She met her husband, the writer Cameron Stracher, at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and after graduation he persuaded her to give New York City a try. After eight wonderful years, they moved to Westport, Connecticut, where they raise tomatoes, basil, and cucumbers in the summer and two kids, Simon and Lulu, year round. Christine is currently at work on a memoir, Stepmother Country.

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