How to Make a Walking Stick
by Joe Cottonwood

Find a branch that has fallen from a tree.
Ask the tree if you may use this wood.
Wait for the answer (sometimes trees are slow).
Listen to the call of the crow, the bark of the fox.
If bird or fox speak, they speak for the tree,
and the answer is Yes.
Or if no animal calls, if no wind rustles,
but if the tree does not say No,
thank the tree for providing this solid stake.
Grasp the wood, rough in your palm.
It will warm to your blood.
It will wear smooth at your touch.
It will bear your weight.
Thank the tree once more.
Now, with stick, walk away.

If on the other hand when
you ask the tree may you use this branch,
if the tree says No,
stop right there.
Why would you walk farther?
You have found a talking tree.

First published in MOON magazine November 2017.

IMAGE: Faerie Folk Tree by Arthur Rackham (1914).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: One of my grandsons whittled a walking stick for me as a gift. I never asked where he found the wood. But after some reflection, I supplied this answer.

Cottonwood Joe copy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joe Cottonwood is a semi-retired contractor with a lifetime of small jobs. His grandchildren think he is a repair god and he tries not to disillusion them. He lives with his high school sweetheart under redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Joe’s latest book is Random Saints.