Winter 2023 The Hammontonian 020123 The Hammontonian | Page 26


Tales of ‘ The Autumn Tree ’

Discovering that something is indeed real after you ’ ve only ever considered it to be a rumor , a myth , or a yarn is one of the magical things that keeps me returning , year after year , to explore the Pine Barrens here in Southern New Jersey . And what ’ s amazing is , it happens more frequently than one can imagine . New species of animals , insects , plants and minerals turn up all the time in these 1.1 million acres of Pinelands that make up twenty-three percent of N . J .’ s land mass . Such was my discovery recently of “ The Autumn Tree ,” a seemingly out-of-place white birch tree that is surrounded by a swampy forest of cedar and pine .
I had heard of The Autumn Tree many , many years ago , from a lady fan of the band I was in , called “ Cookie Evans & The Voodoo Band .” She came to hear us every time we played at the Green Bank Inn , out there on Rt . 542 , half-way between Hammonton and New Gretna . Her name was Loreen .
Loreen told me many times over the years that she was “ one with the woods , in spirit and wisdom ”, and knew many of its deepest secrets . “ And there are a lot of secrets in these woods , Paul ! A lot !”
Tragically , she was recently killed after being accidently run over by a car that was driven by her lover . They were to meet for a concert , and Loreen sneaked out of her house after her husband went to bed . As she crossed the dark street , a Chevy struck her down , ironically being driven by the
man she was running to meet . But before she passed , we shared a lot of times talking about all things Pine Barrens , in between breaks and at the end of our shows at the Green Bank .
One night , after I finished playing my final set , Loreen walked over to the bar and handed me a beer . I


thanked her and invited her to sit down .
“ Have you ever heard of “ The Autumn Tree , Paul ?” she asked . I told her I hadn ’ t .
“ It ’ s a big ol ’ white birch tree , out where there shouldn ’ t be any birch trees , Paulie . There ’ s no good reason that that tree is even there , because it ’ s all by its lonesome and in a swamp full o ’ cedar and pines . It ’ s near where the new wild-water comes a-perk-a-latin ’ out of the ground , before it catches all of its stories and wisdoms that turns it dark and cedary before mixing with the bay , and then , the ocean ”, she smiled . “ And what makes that Autumn Tree all the more special is : it ’ s the first tree in the forest to turn bright yellow , and it does it ’ s turnin ’ in August , and it drops all of its leaves … are you ready for this … all at once , the first week of November ! You just gotta pick the right day to see it !”
The intense look in Loreen ’ s eyes told me she wasn ’ t kidding about any of this .
“ Loreen , what do you mean by wild-water ? Why do you call it that ”, I asked , truly miffed by a term and
the whole story , I ’ d never heard before .
“ Wild-water is what the water that flows through the Pine Barrens is called when it first comes out of the ground . It ’ s perfectly pure , icy-cold , and crystal clear . As it winds it way along , it picks up the stories and the wisdoms of the woods , and that ’ s what turns it that dark , reddish-brown color . It gets cedary . That ’ s why I call it ; ‘ cedary wooder ,’” Loreen grinned . “ You might call it ‘ cedar water ’ like everybody else does hereabouts , but I call it ‘ cedary-wooder ,’”
“ So , nobody has any idea how that birch tree got there , or how long it ’ s been there ”, I asked her , easing calmly into how I was going to ask where this place was .
“ Some say it ’ s always been there , and that “ The Old One ,” the ruler of the forests of the world , sends the birch seed through the wild-water veins from all the way up in Lapp Land , where they grow thick . It goes in up there , and comes out down here , where it grows , after the old birch gets cut down or just dies off ,” Loreen said .
As gently as I could , I pleaded , “ Loreen , I just have to see this place , and watch this tree drop all of its leaves at once . The first of November is just two weeks away . What would I have to do for you to tell me where it is ?”
I smiled as she answered me , and told me the secret location , with one requirement : “ Paul , I want you to write a song called “ The Autumn Tree ” and sing it on your next album .”
I promised Loreen I would .
Halloween , that year , found me camped out not all that far from the eerily growth-stunted Pigmy-Pines Forest near Rt 539 in the vicinity of Warren Grove . And sure enough , following the directions Loreen provided me , I found first the ‘ wild-water ’ spring , that I bent down and drank the most delicious water I ’ ve ever tasted from on my knees , and then saw The Autumn Tree , exactly where she ’ d said it would be . It was screaming bright yellow , and against the azure-blue autumn sky , was truly magnificent . I set up my camp and waited .
I must admit , I was getting somewhat wrestles and just a bit doubtful by the afternoon of the third day , waiting for the leaves to drop from this birch tree I ’ d been camped under for going on seventy-two hours . Could Loreen have been ‘ having one on me ’ before she passed away ? No , I thought . She wouldn ’ t do that . The shadows were getting longer by the minute , and I could feel the woods preparing themselves for another mid-fall night . The breeze slowed to nothing , and that all-encompassing Pine Barrens silence became even more deafening than it was at noon .
And then , magically , unbelievably , and magnificently , every single leaf on that white birch tree fell to the ground with what sounded like a allencompassing yet gentle sigh . It was as if the forest had taken its last breath , and I was there to hear it . And I will never forget it .
“ The Autumn Tree ” is on my forthcoming album . Along with “ Who Killed Loreen .”
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