I have discovered a new way of defining getting older. When you start using Aspercreme on your hands instead of your usual hand cream/lotion, you know that getting older is not for sissies. The "sissies" one I heard from my older cousin, Duane, and he is so right.
But that observation aside, I read the daily offering on "Writers’ Almanac" yesterday and want to share the poem entitled "Trees". It is not the Joyce Kilmer classic from WW 1 vintage when Kilmer must have written his poem while serving in the military in France. From the picture of WW1 landscapes, there were not many forests or trees left standing in that particular conflict on many of the trench warfare battlefields. But this poem about trees is much different than that written by Joyce Kilmer.
"TREES" by W.S. Merwin
"I am looking at trees/ they may be one of the things I will miss the most from the earth / though many of the ones I have seen already I cannot remember/ and though I seldom embrace the ones I have seen and have never been able to speak with one/ I listen to them tenderly/ their names have never touched them/ they have stood around my sleep/ and when it was forbidden to climb them they have carried me into their branches."
I have always looked at trees but I have always been like the poet—-I have not embraced them or spoken to them but they have always been around me and have "stood around my sleep"—-particularly in summertimes when I have slept with open windows letting the sighing of the night-time trees lull me into slumber, slowly and dreamily. Recently, I lay down inside my little cabin (hytte) and just listened to the sound of the trees on a late Sunday afternoon. Nothing else could be heard but the music of the trees. Once in awhile, the songs of birds who live in the trees would intervene but it seemed altogether natural to hear birds and trees together.
The final lines…."and when it was forbidden to climb them they have carried me into their branches" took me back to a large cedar tree which stood on the edge of a property line between my house and my friend Byron’s house. Byron, me and our other neighborhood buddies spent a lot of time contemplating that big old Cedar tree. It was very high by the time we encountered it and the branches were very close together making it nearly impossible to climb— but we did climb it—-forbidden by our parents possibly— but climb we did. Our parents were too busy with their daily tasks to see what we did at the Cedar Tree. We took turns having a go at the tree….it was necessary for each of us to get a boost from one of the others to get into the first branch and then we were on our own. The goal was to reach the topmost branch—probably about 45 feet high and shout and wave to our buddies on the ground, who were craning their necks to watch our progress in the impossibly "branchy" tree. I can still feel the cedar leaves caressing me as I climbed from one branch to another. Fortunately, cedar leaves are not sharp like other evergreens (I never remember climbing up a Blue Spruce). I encountered several birds’ nests as I climbed—some of them had baby birds in them but we did not bother those nests. That was one thing we had all been "forbidden" to do…leave birds nests alone!!!! I think I made it to the top one time and hollered and waved to my friends far below me. It was a thing we did over and over in the summer. The call of the branches to carry is into them was like a siren song. We just had to do it multiple times.
Yesterday, we drove to St Cloud to see "our Buddy" (grandson) play LIttle League baseball. All the way to that city you see trees along the way and they get thicker by the time you reach the "4 Sisters" as I have come to call them….little towns…Melrose, Freeport, Albany and Avon. After you go by Avon you are in the thick forests surrounding St. Johns’ University…the forests are incredibly green now but I thought of what they will look like in late September or October—-all of them aflame with reds, oranges, yellows, pinks, tans…and interspersed among the hardwoods, the eternal deep green of the firs and pines and spruces—and maybe even some good Cedar climbing trees already discovered by a new generation of children.
How poor our lives would be without trees. I think not only of the products we would not have, or even the oxygen they give us so we can breathe…that is much too pedestrian after reading the poem by Merwin.
I think of how we would miss the beauty and stateliness of trees. What a bleak landscape the earth would be without its trees. I can see why some people call others who love the environment greatly, "tree-huggers". All of us should go out and hug a tree. We hug our constant friends….and what are trees, if not constant friends?