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Prairie Notes are monthly photo/journal observations from Tandy Hills Natural Area by Founder/Director, Don Young. They include field reports, flora and fauna sightings, and more, mixed with a scoop of dry humor and a bit of philosophy. They are available free to all who get on the FOTHNA email list.

The Legend of the Witchey Tree of Tandy Hills

Prairie Notes:
October 31, 2009

Long, long ago, before Tandy Hills Natural Area, was appreciated for what it truly is, most people thought of it as nothing more than a big, empty field, a place to dump trash, roll tires down the steep hills, bury dead dogs or lose your kite. Hobo's occasionally wandered through looking for a place to sleep off a hangover. Parents warned their kids to stay away or they'd get lost and eaten by wildcats or worse, kidnapped. It was a dangerous kind of a no-man's land in the middle of the growing city.

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It was especially popular with roofers as a place to dump scrap shingles. Builders putting up new homes along View Street would excavate the rich prairie soil for fill-dirt. Sometimes they would dump unused concrete, motor oil and other unmentionables.

But to certain people looking for a certain kind of love (or a reasonable facsimile on short notice), the Tandy field was also a place to hide from prying eyes. In those olden days, before their was a steel cable to keep vehicles out, you could drive a vehicle off road and right through the park. And lots of people did.

Today, there are about half a dozen bent and rusty vehicles wedged in the steep, limestone drainages of THNA. The stories of how they got there and who put them there are lost in the mists of the time passed. Except for one...

The Legend of the Witchey Tree of Tandy Hills!

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No one knows for sure what happened but, as the urban legend goes...

On a moonless October night in the wicked 1960's, a handsome young eastside couple, overcome with hormonal urges, was in search of a place to... smooch, more comfortably and discreetly. Weaving down View Street in the deepening darkness of dusk, the young man finally found an opening in the curb, killed his headlights and turned the van into Tandy field.

From the road, THNA looks wide open and flat as a pancake. But the young lovers would soon discover why they now call it Tandy Hills. Following the well-worn tracks of previous interlopers they headed in a northerly direction.

Driving with the van's lights off was dangerous, but the young driver could see just well enough to guide the van down the rutted path. The bright lights of downtown Fort Worth twinkled in the west like colored stars. The sky above was cloudy and streaked with searchlights. The air was cool and a bit on the humid side. The couple's passion began to engulf them.

With one eye periodically on the road and the other eye on his sweethearts long dark hair the young man squinted into the night as he slowly negotiated the narrow road between tall stands of Indian Grass. Suddenly, out of nowhere, something struck the windshield with a muffled boom.

The couples' passion quickly cooled, like volcanic magma does when it edges into the sea, as they tried to understand what had happened. The young man tapped the brakes and drew the big van to a stop. Telling his sweetheart not to worry, he opened the glove box and reached for a flashlight.

He clicked on the light and stuck his head out the window scanning the hood looking for... he didn't know what. Feeling a little overheated and excited he nearly screamed when he saw it. There on the hood lay a startled Great Horned Owl with a dead rat in its mouth, blood dripping from both. When the girl saw it she shrieked and buried her face in the young man's red flannel shirt as the owl gathered its prey and lifted of into the darkness. The young man quickly switched off the flashlight.

By this time a light drizzle had started falling from the overcast sky. It landed quietly and tenderly on the roof of the van reminding the young man of why they came to the Tandy field. Squeezing his gals hand he moved his lips closer to hers, but she turned away. Her eyes said it all. Time to take her home.

Realizing the futility of his situation, the young man reluctantly shifted the van into REVERSE, turned the steering wheel sharply and and slowly backed up. Disoriented from the run-in with the owl and the creeping fog that had formed he put the van back into DRIVE, stepped hard on the gas pedal and headed in a... westerly direction.

The young man survived in a vegetative state for a few years, living in an old house near the park but his beautiful, young girlfriend died at the scene. But that's not quite the end of the story.

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As the van speedily plummeted down the ravine at a 45 degree angle, it bounced over boulders and clipped a few old trees before it slammed with ripping force into the hard-rock creek bed. It nearly sheared the top off of a particularly robust young tree. At the precise moment when the tree was struck, the windshield of the van partially severed the young woman's head from her body.

That's also the exact moment when one tree died but...

the Witchy Tree of Tandy Hills was born!

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As you can clearly see from these photographs, the original tree was cruelly deformed. The proud top half was bent sharply downwards but not quite severed. Years passed, but the damaged top did not fall away from the trunk, as one might expect. It remained intact, clinging to the trunk for some weird kind of survival.

The near-decapitated trunk eventually grew a new shoot, a robust growth that produced pretty new leaves every Spring. Each Autumn, around October, the leaves turned lovely shades of red and gold. But the broken, former top growth remained attached, surviving fierce storms and crushing drought. As the decades passed the slender branches of the old, dead treetop began to resemble long dark hair, eventually turning ashen grey, as they do to this day.

The old van, still entombed in the rocky ravine, was long ago cannibalized for spare parts. It remains hidden from prying eyes by new trees, prairie grass and briars. It's only inhabitants are a few spiders and maybe a wasp nest or two. Few people know it exists. Fewer still remember the tragedy of long ago that the rusting shell of death now symbolizes.

But on certain evenings, when walking home after dark from a hike, I hear a macabre moaning sound coming from the direction of...

The Witchey Tree of Tandy Hills!

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Welcome to Tandy Hills. Come on in, if you dare!!!

PS: Do not ask where the Witchey Tree grows nor search for the vehicle that lies entombed in the abyss, else you risk a chill to the depths of your soul.

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