Saturday, July 11, 2009

Remembrance of Trees

Tree Reader at elimae

When I was last in Poland we were visiting historic sites on our way to Chopin’s house. Across the road, a major truck route out of Warsaw (which in Poland is a two-lane road) -- across from one old wooden church was a large tree with a low iron rail fence around it. The fence was built with carved stones of granite at the corners. I asked what that was about and was told that it was revered, and considered an historic site, as an old tree. The tree was considered special for being old... it was down the road from the copse that we were casually told marked the first military use of nerve gas by the Nazis. I presume there may have been something more to the old tree reverence but the discussion was along the lines of, “Why are you looking at that? Here we have this old wooden church to look at.” My thought was, Wow, this is really kool, a tree marked off as special and nobody is even asking a dollar for us to look at it. [Hear about that trip to Poland that includes raven caws and dog barking. Radio Free Preservation v1 i1 April 2008]

In the Podlaskie region of Poland, on a previous visit, where there is an historic wooden architecture that is vernacular to the region, a comment was made as to the sacred nature of trees as a connecting link between the earth and the sky... and that thus when building a church or synagogue or mosque or barn or house of wood one needs to carry this sacred connection into the work. When you are there and you look around at the fields and the groves of trees it creates an epiphany in vision of the biota... the relatively thin layer of bio-mass that trees provide to our common earth. It is nice that there are a few humans who can perceive this sustainable connection in nature.

I am reminded that Thoreau's family made their fortune in pencils.

As a kid I had a friend who was something of a romantic in the classical Germanic sense of the term (at that time I was not particularly aware of my German roots). We were walking along from school one day on the sidewalk when suddenly he ran up to and hugged the trunk of an elm tree. He then excitedly confessed to me, the ever present confident, that he would rather hug a tree any day than hug a girl. I am all for hugging trees but I don’t see that as a higher calling in life than hugging people, women and men, children, that sort of friendly breaking through the barriers to grab hold of each other. At the time I was not too sure what to make of his confession. I see now that he is married with children and we can assume that a few trees here and there are safe from untoward assault. One of the primary reasons that extraterrestrials keep visiting and abducting humans is that they have lost the tactile consciousness of hugging each other. They know that they are missing something but you never hear of them abducting our trees and eviscerating them as with stray cattle in Wyoming. So much for intergalactic lumbering around.

Recently I was reading a book about Joan D’Arc. My interest stems from my having been told as a child that our family is descended from Joan D’Arc. Now, as this does seem implausible (about as implausible as my being convinced that I was present at the Last Supper at the moment of my earthly conception -- and we can argue over exactly when that occurred in the history of biological evolution, I mean, considering that everything is pre-designed) I must confess that I am fascinated by the unrealistic pieces of ancestral data that we carry around with us, sort of a psychic DNA. Information that intrigues me in odd ways such as that my maternal great-grandfather, the Iowan sheep farmer (he had trees on his land too, I have seen them), a bonifide descendant of Daniel Boone (who wrote flash fiction on the trunks of trees) raped the traveling school teacher in his barn (I think I was told that she had red red hair), thus a family was born and bred with the violence of an intellectual background... that is, one of them could read.

Regardless, back to Joan. I like to associate myself with a female religious warrior background (especially when playing WoW), it just seems so kool to me even if it is unlikely that I am sort-of related to Joan D'Arc but probably not really. So I was reading this book about her, supposedly written by one of her male childhood friends, that tells about a large resplendent tree on the hill outside of their French village, and since I can’t find the book in all the mess of books I am winging it here... and the humble village children would play at the tree and for hundreds and hundreds of years they would play there along with the faeries. Then one day a fairy did something rude... was seen spying out a naked grandmother through her kitchen window or whatever, and the local priest (Catholic) came along and banished the fairies from playing with the children. This all sounds so damnably contemporary when you think about it. But the impression I get is that the tree was made unhappy and that Joan D’Arc took the local priest to task to defend the fairies. I am proud of my brave ancestors even if they are not. I hope that the tree is still there, one of a few places that I would like to visit and maybe read a book, more on that later, and nowadays when people no longer believe in fairies it just may be the little magical buggers are free to dance around and party unmolested. It is France.

As a kid we had five acres of woods surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods and farm fields. There were many trees, a few of them quite distinct. A very large basswood was one where I spent hours building forts -- basswoods are good for that. It gave me an early sense of the engineering of building, particularly on the day when all of the logs rolled out and Ronnie Harkness (he is Italian, sort of, and his sister had very red red hair), who was up in the tree on top of the logs that I was handing up (well, they were a bit rotted and fairly small in diameter) made a sudden move and everything came tumbling down.

Ronnie ended up on the bottom of the pile; I ended up on the top. Lessons learned, round elements roll off from sloped branches of basswood real easy and -- don’t stand too close to Ronnie when he is pissed.

We had another tree way off in the back corner, near to the wild strawberry patch, a tall white pine, taller than all of the other trees around. Most of the trees were maple and ash with a small dose of hickory and hawthorn, and ironwood and there was the area that had once been apple orchard.

Diversion, apples, green apples, small worm ridden hard little round apples, we would cut a stout switch of maple or ash or whatever was handy, sharpen one end and poke it into the apple. This created, at minimal cost to us or the environment, a neat toy and an amazing weapon. The principle was that if you swung the apple on the switch overhead that the apple would fly off at considerable speed toward whatever target you were aiming, though rarely if ever able to hit on target. It was fantastic! Unfortunately from about a hundred feet away I hit my younger brother directly in the eye.

That was enough of that, back to the white pine... so I was in a habit to climb up to the top of the white pine, an act that usually got my hands covered with pine pitch (so these days when I muck my hands with epoxy I feel childlike in my dirtiness and digits stuck together so that I need to manhandle a screwdriver to pull them apart -- just yesterday I remarked on how I purchase latex gloves but never remember to use them), and I would sit up there for hours, particularly on a nice sunny day, and watch the wind sway the top of the woods, and sway me with it. I like to be swayed.

There was a place along the local crick a ways down where people did not wander where a group of hemlocks grew. It was actually a small island where the crick divided to go around the root base of the trees. I love the aromatic smell and the branch movement, springy with grace, and the gentle leaves of Hemlock. I built a Dan Beard type of lean-to down there below the trees. That was where I would wander off to be alone to read Shakespeare.

There is something I believe very important about where one reads, and where one writes.

Where we live now, on Long Island, for our house and property we were particularly attracted to the diversity of trees, and bushes, and ocean, and weeds, and bugs, and birds and squirrels and deer and racoons... well, the racoons are not particularly good neighbors, especially when you have pet chickens... but you can get the gist of it.

We had a very tall and regal Hemlock at the corner of the house, within fifteen feet of where I sit now, but sadly it was taken out by wooly aphids. Diversity is grand!


  1. Of course. A reverie with trees figuring prominently. The woods and individual trees must be havens for peripatetic readers, writers, lonely kids who don't think of themselves as lonely. Those discovered and not owned places of many trees and some singular ones constitute not only place
    but also scaffold for thoughts, events -- those generally quiet events, secrets
    perhaps, but not dark secrets. Yes, places to read. Ironically, holding a
    book, reading it under or in a tree is akin to munching on jerkey while watching the cows. No, that's silly.

    There was a pine tree that somehow grew hammocks up top; it
    must have lost its leader. Several of us could lounge
    around up there and forget we were 30 feet above the ground. There was an Osage orange, we called what it grew lunatic apples. It was still there decades later when I went back to visit but it
    was quite smaller than I remembered. There it was in it's
    scrawniness among other trees, forgotten likely by my grown-up childhood cohort and seldom visited, apparently, by
    the current residents, suburban influx to what had been a childhood place of only earth, trees and furred critters. It was good to find that puny Osage as testimony to a childhood of, yes, getting
    dirty with sap on hands, burrs in hair, red
    traces on skin from touching it all, being there.

    Very likely, worrying about a tree or trees, doing something to shield them from damage or destruction is an act of friendship, of quiet defiance toward things that are gone-- like childhood. Hey-- not gone really. Rather those parts of ourselves that most of us have that show up as campaigns or the occasional moment of recognition such as a tree in Poland with a fence marking it as special that is more special because of it's endurance and its witness to a horrible human meanness (massacre).

    It is very good to consider the trees and their above and
    below ground connections. Thanks for the

  2. I am frustrated with auto-spell checker that makes its it's and my xox at the end of notes to my children" cox."