EAGLE, Colorado - There should be a magic tree in every child's life.
Taft Conlin's is in Eagle.
It's a fort, a castle, a spaceship, the Whomping Willow from Hogwarts. It's a huge, sprawling cottonwood tree with two rope swings, a tire swing and generations of imagination.
It may be the oldest cottonwood tree in Eagle County. It may also be the biggest. Things often become larger and grander in story telling, so if it wasn't before, it is now.
Taft's birthday is Tuesday. He would have been 14 had an avalanche not killed him while skiing on the front side of Vail Mountain.
Then again, Taft will still be 14.
A hundred or so of his friends and teammates, his parents' friends and others gathered to place a stone bench and a plaque as a memorial, imploring us to live life to its fullest, to be like Taft. He may not have lived long, but he lived.
In front of Taft's Magic Tree is a rope on which dozens of prayer flags fly. The thought is that each time they flutter, a prayer goes up to heaven, toward Taft.
The town of Eagle gets it. A couple of the organizers asked the town's open space folks for permission to place the bench and plaque. Within 48 hours, they had it.
"The word is out that this is Taft's place and people are coming to honor him," neighbor Sarah Giovagnoli said.
Dozens gathered for the dedication. They ate, they laughed, they loved. Around a quarter past 7 on a golden summer evening, they started down the path toward the tree. They were 12 to 65 years old, most of them teenagers about Taft's age.
The long progression stretched down the path to Taft's Magic Tree.
By the way, the tree has been called the Magic Tree forever.
Local photographer Wendy Griffith lives right behind it and said kids have been playing in its branches for generations.
Now it's also a spot for the people to gather and remember Taft or their childhoods and their own Magic Tree.
Gino Giovagnoli told the crowd about the tree, the rope swings over the creek and Taft's indomitable spirit.
The Magic Tree was the childhood hangout for Taft, Gino and about anyone else who felt like swinging from a tree.
Gino told the crowd how they discovered the tree six years ago when there was just an old dirt path leading to it and an old tire swing with a fraying rope. The Eagle Ranch path runs right by the Magic Tree, and countless kids now play, swim and take flight on the tire swing that Taft and Gino built.
They pooled their resources and came up with enough money to buy a new rope. They rebuilt the swing and spent their summers at the tree, swimming, tubing, playing in its branches and flying over the creek.
"Every summer day spent with Taft ended up with us somehow wet," Gino said.
Louise Ingalls, Taft's mother, spoke briefly and bravely, inviting everyone to tie their prayer flags to the twine strung through the branches of the tree.
Cathy Dalbow coached Taft's sister Maddi and her soccer team. Taft rarely missed a game, watching most of them from the branches of a nearby tree - his unique perspective. Not the Magic Tree but certainly a magic tree.
If, as the poem suggests, only God can make a tree, he put the Magic Tree by Brush Creek for kids to climb.
Then, like magic, dozens of kids ascended into the Magic Tree's branches, some climbing high enough to make their parents nervous.
Every nook had a kid in it, mostly teenage boys, all Taft's friends egging one another on to live a little larger.
And, of course, they ended up in the creek, splashing one another, embodying teenage abandonment and joy.
They lit a bonfire and stayed up until 4 a.m., coming to one concrete conclusion: No matter how many years it runs, life is short. Live it.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.