When I was growing up trees were precious.
Almost family. They were cherished. Loved.
Each year on the bare plains we’d plant them.
Hundreds sent from the government program.
“Shelter belt” planting they called it. We just
said it was hard work. Planting trees in the soil
that wanted nothing to do with their roots or
needs. The soil wanting to grow grass and blow
across the skies in the summerfallow winds.
Little dams, shelters of cedar shakes and water.
We watered and weeded. Watered and weeded.
Some lived. Most died. We kept trying.
Fast forward some years. To river valleys. Full of
trees. Trees growing tall sheltering herons, hawks,
eagles and water fowl. Felled by winds, and dragged
down by floods. Each one a cottonwood of rotten
heart or a bended stubborn willow. No spruce or
pine to scent the air. Cottonwood fluff, sticky
pods everywhere in spring. And leaves.
Seeing them for the first time, red woods, was awe.
I looked up and up and up and the tops swayed.
Vertigo took me and I reached out to hold on.
And it was then that I felt the heart of the tree.
The warmth of sun on bark, the hum of insects.
The chatter of birds. The smell of pitch. Sticky.
Pinching bruised branches of cedar. Chewing
on willow bark. Brushing the branches of silver
willow as we ride looking for the cows.
Trees grow here at the drop of a hat. Sometimes
they drop the hat and grow if you are to slow
in mowing the lawn or grazing the pasture.
They grow and grow and wait to take back
their land from the humans and their cutting
kind. Like the Ents they surge ever forward
waiting to take back what was once theirs.
Even the bedrock is not immune to their
seeking roots. Massive rocks crack, fill
and then the seed sets. Grows. Cracks.
Dams abandoned. Indestructible to the
tools of human kind, fall stone by stone
to the roots of a maple sapling, to the
questing reach of the trailing roots of pine.
Four pages of words about trees in Cree.
Phrases, sayings, things we do and eat.
Women chew birch bark patterns.
Their mouths telling stories in each bite.
Art work for all to see and so few to
understand. The vast plains ache for the
trees that were taken from their coulees and
draws. Pioneers desperate for wood, dug
deep and made due with sod and dried
manure. Longing for the luxury of trees.
Ukrainian settlers chose the lands with trees.
After all in their homeland the trees
were the property of the rich, the important.
Their value stood tall and proud, rooted.
The big farms hate corners. They hate to turn.
The plow down the old homesteads. The
carefully tended old windbreaks and shelter
belts burned and rolled under. A few acres
more to put into grains and oilseeds. And
yet each spring their kind spring up, early.
They tangle up the implements and I quietly
cheer them on. Go trees! Grow trees! Go!
A tree hugger to the core, I adore them from
root to thorn, bramble to bloom. sap to fruit.
Trees must be a part of my genetic memory.
They are wound tight around my DNA like
the tangled roots of a spruce tree. Holding
on to the side of a mountain. Taking it down
one crack at a time. Breaking it into soil.
Bjorn has us writing about trees over at dVerse. And I’m afraid this got a bit epic. I was overwhelmed with ideas and just started writing, letting the thoughts and ideas flow. This is my rambling poetic thoughts about trees. And I may do a part two or three, even four!
Among the trees.
Birch Bark Biting