A Petrified Tree Preserved In Sandstone On Battersea Road


True Story:

As far as I can figure it, Lem pulled off Sunbury Rd sometime in the spring of 1980. He was built differently then, an inch and a half taller for starters, and his thick white shirt had the sleeves rolled up past the elbows. A pair of worn olive suspenders. Arms you’d be proud of. It was a sunny early morning with a mild wind from the south-west. The sun tormenting the trees. A milk truck rattled past, testing the gravel shoulder on the bends.

I don’t know what Lem was driving. I insist on picturing a wood-sided Wagoneer, a boiled wool blanket laid down in the back to protect things, but the odds are slim. He was building a house and needed stone for the fireplace. And he bought enough sandstone scrap from the quarry foreman that day to put down a floor in the sunroom too. Thirty-two bucks and it took him three trips to get it all home because he didn’t want to risk the suspension.

One of the slabs contained a cross-section of petrified tree as pure and telling as a CT scan. The ring of bark as fresh as anything in the yard. Lem sheared it (the nerve!) into two mirror images and mortared them above the mantel. A week’s work end to end and a Rorschach is what’s endured, or a pale tanned torso, its organs melted within, the tree that it is.