• Casey Dunn

Portrait Writing: The Old Spruce in Bad Gastein

Short story based on the painting The Old Spruce in Bad Gastein by Rudolf von Alt


I had first met the tree as a young boy. I snuck out with a couple of my friends during a summer sleepover. The moon was in one of those kitty crescent phases. A little smile guiding our travels. We had meant to go towards an abandoned cabin on the northeast side of town, but we took a wrong turn somewhere along the path. Instead, we came upon the pine. Its base shooting far up into the black sky. Branches and needles sweeping out to greet us. One of my friends shook its prickly hand and we all laughed. It was ominous, it was magical. The only tree standing along the path. How long had it been there? Why had it not been cut down like so many others? The rest wanted to move on, but I was transfixed. I’m not sure most people understand. I’ve tried explaining it to friends or family or the random stranger, but it’s difficult. This tree on that night was haunting. In the moment I knew it was a memory I’d have forever. A link to the past echoing forward in time. That time of remembrance is waning. It and some of my older memories are the only things that glisten in my head. If that makes any sense. I see people now and I don’t recognize them. I can see that hurts them. That they’re worried. That they pity me. Sometimes I pity me. A broken clock with a minute hand on repeat. I used to say that I loved hearing people’s stories again and again. It was fun to see the different inflections they put on different moments. The things they would change or emphasize depending on how they were feeling during that particular telling. But now people tell me that I’m repeating myself. Or that they answered my question moments earlier. I came back to that tree most evenings during that summer. I sat within its bristles and dreamed of older days. I thought of distant lands and great adventures. That’s never really changed. Just the location and that I can’t climb into pines. After I left I never went back to the tree. I worry that it’s been cut down or hit by lightning or some other horror. It’s better as a dream, as a memory bursting through the present. A friend I loved and love and will love. One like my family, like my parents or my sister. More alive in memory than in life. Missed and mourned and loved anew. Stories to be told again and again. Little needles on a great pine shooting long into the dark night sky.

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