Harry’s Tree

503 cover harrys tree for websiteHarry Maddox’s passion is to find the perfect redwood tree and  transform it into the world’s best suite of furniture, but Harry’s epilepsy precludes him from having a driver’s license and denies him access to the forest.  Then Steve, a newcomer to Kinsale, goes to the senior center, meets Harry, and becomes infected by Harry’s dedication and enthusiasm. Steve becomes Harry’s mentor.  He leads Harry on long hikes through the redwood forest in search of “Harry’s Tree,” urges him on when weary, soothes him when patience wears thin, teaches him the values of preparation and practice, and protects him when the police become suspicious.  The longer Steve and Harry search together, the more Harry contributes to other people’s passions, and the more his view on life changes.

Excerpt 1

The front door of the Kinsale Senior Center opens into a lobby holding a couch and a pair of overstuffed chairs. A long hallway to the left leads to what once were classrooms but are now meeting rooms. The sign under the arrow reads “ceramics, computer, quilting, studio.” To the right is an open room with an elevated stage at one end. When I arrived, the main floor was filled with perhaps twenty tables of bridge players. One man about my age was sitting in a lobby chair watching me.

I said, “Good morning. I’m Steve Terwilliger. I’ve just recently arrived from Denver. This is my first visit to the senior center.”

The man stood up and shook my hand. “Harry, Harry Maddox. Glad to meet you.” Harry was stocky and at least six inches shorter than my six foot two. What hair he had was white.

“I see you’re not a bridge player.”

“Oh I play, but all those old women say I’m crazy. What brings you to town?”

“I’ve been looking for a place to retire. This is it.”

“Congratulations. Come take a load off. Where’d you find a place to live?”

“I bought a house just down the street.”

“Those little Victorians are cute when they’re fixed up. I live just across the street. It’s a nice neighborhood.”

We sat in silence for a minute or two. I said, “So what system do you play that those women can’t handle? Surely, not American Standard.”

“Oh, my bridge is fine. It’s just that they’re tired of hearing me talk.”


“Oh, yes. You see I’m a man on a mission. I’m looking for the perfect tree. Harry’s Tree. And not just any tree but a redwood. It doesn’t have to be too big or too tall, but it has to be perfect.” He stood and started to pace to and fro in front of my chair. “Harry’s Tree will be straight. There’ll be no twists, turns, lightning strikes, dead branches, or any flaws at all. The bark will be smooth and true.” He waved his hands in a quarter circle. “The bark will twist clockwise exactly a quarter circle as it goes up the tree. That’s the secret for knowing a redwood is well-bred and healthy.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“You couldn’t be expected to, you being from Denver. Anyway, the heart of the Harry’s Tree will be the ideal dark red, not quite maroon, just a dark red. And the grain will be straight. Some folks like the knots and twists of the burl wood. Someone else can take that. It’s the straight grain heartwood for me.”

“What are you going to do with it when you find it?”

His speed picked up and his voice became almost a holler. “That’s the best part. You see, I’m going to take that perfect heartwood and turn Harry’s Tree into the prettiest suite of furniture you have ever seen. They’ll be enough wood to outfit the entire house. There’ll be sofas and chairs for the living room and family room, coffee tables and lamp tables, a dining room table and chairs to go with it, a hutch to put all the matching dishes in, a country-style kitchen table and chairs, and then in the bedrooms there’ll be canopy beds and dresser and chests of drawers.”

“Harry, settle down.” A stern, matronly looking iron gray-haired woman intercepted Harry’s path, grabbed him by the upper arm, and led him back to his chair.
“Please excuse Harry. He does get excited when he talks about his tree. I’m Sara Wilton, Secretary of the Kinsale Senior Center. I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“Steve Terwilliger. This is my first visit to your center.”

“Welcome. I apologize for Harry. He is really a very nice man who gets carried away now and then. May I help you?”

‘Yes, if you could spare a few minutes, I’d like to talk to you.”

“The bridge game will end in a few minutes. If you can wait, we can talk then.”

“That would be fine.”

I watched her stride back into the main hall and then turned to Harry. “She seems a commanding woman.”

“She keeps an eye on me. I like that. It keeps me out of trouble sometimes. She can be harsh, but she means well.”

“So, Harry, I take it you haven’t found your tree yet.”

“It’s sooo disappointing. Actually, I haven’t even begun to look.”

“Why not?”

“They took my driver’s license away. No, no, not drinking or anything like that. I’m an epileptic, though it’s been some time since anything’s happened to me. I can’t say I blame them. It might be dangerous to me and others if something happened while I was driving.”

“I agree.”

“No one will take me into the forest. Some don’t want to go with a crazy person and others don’t want to have to deal with a fit if one comes on. I can’t blame them, and I certainly don’t want to be pushy. I’m grateful to get driven here and there as it is.”

“Would you go if someone drove you?”

Harry jumped up. “Would you?”

“I don’t see why not. I’d like to walk in the redwoods, and don’t have anything else to do until escrow closes.”

Harry was hugging me when Sara came back into the lobby. “Harry, what are you doing?”

He let me go and turned to Sara. “Steve’s going to take me into the forest. I’m going to find my tree.” He stopped and slowly turned back toward me. “What time?”

“I’ll pick you up at ten tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll be here.”

When Harry was out of sight Sara said, “Are you sure you want to do that?”

“Sure. Why not? The worse that can happen is I keep him from swallowing his tongue and have to carry him out.”

“No. The worse thing that can happen is to have to listen to him the whole time you’re with him.” She paused. “What did you wish to talk to me about?”

I waved to her to sit down. “I just bought a house right down the street.”

“In the Doll House area?”

“Yes. It’s one of the originals, a fix-it project. Please don’t think me as crazy as Harry, but I want to make it into a doll house, something apropos to the neighborhood. I’d like to talk to someone who knows something about doll houses to give me some guidance.”

“Very fatherly.”


“Isn’t it traditional for a father to build a doll house for his daughter to decorate?”

“I hadn’t thought about it that way. I just thought I need some advice.”

Sara paused for a few minutes. “Let me think about it. I know the women here in the senior center, but it’s not a subject we’ve talked about. I’ll talk to a few people and see what I can come up with for you.”

“Thank you.”

She rose from the chair. “Again, welcome to the Kinsale Senior Center. Don’t forget to fill in the membership form and pay your dues.”

Excerpt 2

The next morning Harry was sitting on the steps of the senior center when I arrived at five-to-ten. He jumped up and got to the car before I stopped. “Thanks for coming. I was afraid you wouldn’t. Where are we going to go to look?”
“I surfed the Internet last night. There’s a lot of places right here in Santa Christina County. Here’s a short list.” I handed him a computer printout. “I’d recommend we start by walking in Naperson-Morris State Park.”
Harry got in to my car and buckled his seatbelt. “I didn’t imagine finding my tree in a park.”
“Probably not. But since neither one of us has ever looked, I thought it would be good practice.”
“Good idea. Let’s go.”
The entrance to the park was only a five-minute drive from the senior center. Harry insisted on paying the two dollar day-use fee, and then studied the trial guide until we reached the parking area at the end of the road. Neither of us had dressed for serious hiking; we both wore tennis shoes, jeans, and a T-shirt. Harry didn’t have a hat. We didn’t carry anything, not even water. Harry pointed to the trailhead and said, “This way.”

The trail was broad, flat, and gently graded. Harry looked from the trail guide and said, “This trail was one of the original logging roads. They brought Chinese labor in to build roads like this to allow the huge first-growth redwood logs to be carted out by oxen. The surrounding area was first logged in the 1870’s, but farther in it was logged in the early 1900’s. We’re walking in Ayre Canyon. Most of it was logged right after the 1906 earthquake. Ayre Creek redwood was used to rebuild most of San Francisco.”

“You knew all that?’

“Nope, it’s in the pamphlet.”

After about fifty yards we came to a stand of six redwoods. Harry looked at them and said, “These six are growing in a circle. When the old loggers worked here they couldn’t cut the trees at ground level, the burl made it far too thick for the equipment they had. So they cut them ten to twenty feet up from the ground. That didn’t kill the trees; they just sent up new shoots all around the edge of the burl. That’s why they grow in a circle, and that’s why these got so tall in such a short time.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because the little trees started with a mature root system. They didn’t have to spend a couple of hundred years growing roots. It makes for a nice forest today but none of these trees will do.”

“Why not?”

“Because they’re not perfect. Look at the branch development. They don’t grow toward their cousins. The trees are lopsided. Further more, they’re not quite straight. They lean away from the others. This kind just won’t do.”

“But Harry, there are no old-growth trees anymore.”

“Old growth doesn’t matter. What matters is that the tree was grown from seed. Then it has a chance of not being misshapen by its neighbors.”

We walked in silence for ten minutes. I saw several rings, or partial rings, of redwoods but none standing alone until we reached an area of oak and redwood. Harry said, “Ah, this is more, like it. Redwood saplings usually don’t do well without shade, and oaks provide the most reliable source. They’re the climax tree in all the forests around here that don’t support redwoods. They might be two hundred years old before a redwood will drive them out.”

I counted sixteen redwoods mixed with the oaks; none of them reaching more than twenty feet above the tallest oak. “Do the oaks retard the redwoods? These look small.”

“Not at all. This just means that all these redwoods started growing about the same time. I’d guess they’re one hundred years old, maybe a bit more. These oaks would have been about big enough to provide the needed shade about then. I’d say about fifty years before that there was a fire here that created a clearing. Then the bay trees filled in enough to give the oaks the dappled shade they need, and then the redwoods arrived.”

“A fire?”

“Yes. The native Indians often used controlled burns to clear patches of land. I’ll bet if we dug around here we’d find some Miwak artifacts.”


“The local Indians.”

I looked carefully at the redwoods. “Do you see anything you like?”

“There are some nice looking specimens here, but they’re all too small. They wouldn’t have enough of the red heartwood. This is the kind of grove we’re looking for, but the trees have to be bigger.”

“These are pretty big.”

“Big for an eastern forest, maybe even big for a Rocky Mountain forest, but not for a redwood forest.”


“It’s not the height, Steve, it’s the diameter. A redwood could be the same height as these and be twice as thick. That would be a candidate. The thing about this grove is the way the trees are distributed. They’re not in a ring. They’re scattered randomly about fifty feet apart.”

“You know a lot about the redwoods.”

“I’ve studied them, read books, looked at pictures. I’ve learned.”

We walked on for another twenty minutes before we turned back toward the car. Harry’s pace slowed noticeably. “Are you feeling okay?”

“Yes, yes, don’t worry about me. I was so keyed up. I overdid it. It’s so exciting to actually start to look for what you’ve dreamed of for so long.” We walked on for another ten minutes. “You know, Steve, you were right. Being out among them really made a difference. I thought I knew all about the redwood forest, but reading books just isn’t the same. I did need to practice. Thanks for helping me. But now I’m sure I’m not going to find my tree in a park. I’m going to have to hike back into the mountains, really get deep into the forest.”

“Are you sure? It’s one thing to predict where your tree might be. It’s another to be able to hike ten miles a day. You’re no spring chicken, Harry. Are you in shape for it?”

“No, but no problem. I’ll just get in shape. How hard can it be to get in shape for a ten-mile walk?”

“Pretty hard.”

“It’s not me, Steve, I’ll do it. It’s you.”


“You’re going with me, aren’t you?”

I stopped and sat down on a log and thought about the prospects. Harry couldn’t go by himself. He couldn’t get to the trail head and he needed someone with him if something happened. There were trails in the mountains but most of the terrain was wild. Searching for a special tree would mean some true wilderness hiking. It wasn’t just ten miles along a flat logging-road; it was ten miles through mountain wilderness. I hadn’t been in shape to do that for forty years.
Harry said, “If you’re worried about the gear we’ll need, don’t. I’ll pay for everything. If you’re worried about getting in shape for it, if you were ever in shape for it once, you can do it again.”

“It’s been forty years.”

“Me, too. But we can do it. Just think how good you’ll feel once you’ve done it. We’ll start slowly and build up to it.”

“Harry, I’m too old to spend hours in a gym trying to get in shape. Life is too short for that. Nothing is as boring as walking on a treadmill.”

“I agree. We’ll shape up by walking in the woods. We’ll go until we get tired, and then the next time we’ll go a little further. We’ll get in shape faster that way. We’ll make it fun. And you never know, maybe we’ll get lucky and find my tree quickly.”

“You really think you can do it?”

“I can, and I’m betting you can too.”

I got up and started down the trail. Neither of us spoke until we were fastened in our seat belts. “Harry, how do you feel? Stiff? Sore? Today was just a stroll. What you’re proposing is far worse.”


“I feel great about getting started. I feel sure you and I will find the tree.”


“Physically, Harry, how do you feel?”


“Stiff, sore and tired. But hey, no pain no gain. I’ll get in shape in no time. How about you?”

“The same.”

“Will you do it, Steve?”

I started the engine and backed out of the parking spot before I answered. “I’ll try.”

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