(The Flame Trees)

Around May through August, there is a profusion of fiery red blossoms all over Guam. These blossoms come from huge trees which we call flame trees (tronkon atbot) because they look like something big had gone up in flames. The trees are tall and symmetrical, and have the shapes of perfect mushrooms.

On the grounds of the elementary school we attended, there was one flame tree that was so beautiful. Ever since I could remember, graduation exercises and programs were held under this tree. A stage or platform was built and decorated beautifully with greenery and tropical flowers. The graduates marched to the stage to the sound of Pomp and Circumstance or some other graduation march played on the piano by one of the teachers. The women graduates wore beautiful organdy dresses in various pastel colors with orchid corsages and matching bouquets which they held as they marched up the stage; the men wore dark trousers, white shirts and dark ties.

This graduation program was more impressive than the high school graduation program where all wore the usual white cap and gown. But what made this particular program exceptionally beautiful was the canopy of red blossoms of the flame tree that draped the entire stage. What made it even more special was the fact that my Dad planted this tree when he was but a young lad attending school right there at Price Elementary School. The school was named in honor of Governor Price, the first Governor of Guam, appointed by the President of the United States.

Dad planted the tree on Arbor Day. Arbor Day was a special event at school even during my time. The children sang songs about trees and some recited poems appropriate for the occasion. Then the actual planting of trees occurred. I remember one stanza of a song we used to sing on Arbor Day:

Plant a tree, earth will feed it
Soon will flourish green and strong;
Soon it'd spread its peaceful shadow,
Where the birds will sing their song.

Another song that we used to sing is the following:

The sunbeams are twinkling
The air, soft and free;
Is telling a message
To you and to me.

A tree, a tree
We're planting a tree;
A tree, a tree,
We're planting a tree.

Though now it is slender
No taller than I;
It soon will be growing
Straight up to the sky.

A tree, a tree
We're planting a tree;
A tree, a tree,
We're planting a tree.

At home, we had one flame tree that was as tall as it was broad and wide with all sizes and thickness of branches. Sometimes people driving on the main highway three or four miles away would stop and take a detour to a dirt road leading to our house to take pictures of the tree. In the blooming season, you would hardly see green leaves for all was resplendent in glorious red.

On the back side of the tree facing west, there was one big branch that arched over, came down low almost touching the top of the chicken house on our backyard, and then curved up some more. The branch was a wavy sort of branch that we used like a bridge from the chicken house to the main tree. The highest point in this "bridge" was a perfect location for a treehouse. The branch was wide enough for us to put the floor of our treehouse. There were other strong branches nearby for us to put up walls. We would put all our accessories--lumbers, plywoods, nails, hammer, etc. on the top of the chicken house and then carry them up that long, wavy branch. It looked like this undertaking was going to be just dandy. It would be our first summer treehouse amidst glorious red blossoms.

The first phase of the treehouse-building project was to hoist the big plyboard to the top of the chicken house. We contemplated how we would do this. After a while, we figured exactly what to do to put the board up on the roof. We would tie ropes on each end of the board, and two people on top of the chicken house would hoist the thing up. Yes, this worked, and we greatly rejoiced with our efforts and ingenuity. Now, the next step was a little bit more difficult--how to transport the big, heavy plyboard from the top of the chicken house to the spot high up on the branch.

The game plan was for me to take the ropes that were already attached to each end of the board and tie them around my waist. I would then inch my way up to the spot on the branch marked for the treehouse. This would be harder because now it would be just me hoisting the board up on the branch. Obviously, it would require a lot of concentration on my part in climbing the branch while maintaining balance of the board in tow. My siblings (those who were my accomplices in this tree-house scheme) and I were confident this could be done.

All too soon, the trek up the long wavy branch began. Slowly, the board and I inched our way up. Below, everyone held their breath and willed for me to make it to the top successfully. The board and I were almost to our destination when suddenly, it tipped, lost its balance and slipped off the branch nearly jolting me out of the branch.

The board hung in midair held by the ropes tied securely around my waist. The board just hung there as if beckoning me to come down with it. I don't want to fall; I don't want to fall!  my mind was screaming. So, I hung on to the branch for dear life.

Cut the ropes; cut the ropes!  I heard someone say. But how were the ropes to be cut? The board was suspended in midair--too high up from the ground; and if anyone should try to cut the ropes from my waist, we were bound to all succumb to the fate gravity had in store for us. It would be a nasty fall.

Horrified, my siblings looked upon the scene helplessly. It was as if terror had paralyzed and glued them to the spot where they were. Nobody was doing anything alleviate my distress (there was no 911 to call; in fact, there were no phones!) Meanwhile, I was losing my energy and presence of mind just trying to hold on. I was feeling the pain of the ropes digging into my waist and my arms were aching from hugging the branch tightly with all my might.

The precious minutes were ticking away, and I was finding it harder and harder to continue to hold on. My strength was waning fast, and it almost seemed preferable to just let go. Just let go, and all would be over. Just about the time when I felt I couldn't hold on any longer, something unexpected happened. No one saw him, no one heard any flutter of wings, but an angel of the Lord came to my rescue and caused the ropes to relinquish their heavy cargo which tumbled ungracefully to the ground with a big thud.

After this incident, we figured it would not be wise to continue with our plans for a summer treehouse. However, we continued to do what we had always enjoyed doing--climbing every single branch of the tree, perching on a good spot and looking out over the neighborhood--the highway, the cars, the people--enjoying the feel of the patchy warm sunlight and the wind on our faces, and mostly just enjoying the splendor of the fiery red blossoms of the flame tree.

The near falling-off-the-flame-tree incident was only one of many, many close calls we had encountered during our tree-climbing days. But the Lord Himself was the Wind beneath our wings who held us up and kept us from falling.

He will continue to be with us to help us, to guide us, to strengthen and encourage us, and to keep us from falling into temptation and sin. Jude 24.


Oooh, oh, oh, oh, oooh...
It must have been cold there in my shadow
To never have sunlight on your face
You were content to let me shine, that's your way
You always walked a step behind

So I was the one with all the glory
While you were the one with all the strain
A beautiful face without a name for so long
A beautiful smile to hide the pain

Did you ever know that you're my hero
And everything I would like to be?
I could fly higher than an eagle
For you are the wind beneath my wings

It might have appeared to go unnoticed
But I've got it all here in my heart
I want you to know I know the truth
Of course I know it
I would be nothing without you

Did you ever know that you're my hero
And everything I would like to be?
I could fly higher than an eagle
For you are the wind beneath my wings

Fly, fly, fly away, you let me fly so high.
Oh, fly, fly, so high against the sky,
So high I almost touch the sky.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, God, for You are
The wind beneath my wings.

--Bette Midler

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Wind Beneath My Wings Midi