Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tree Witness


Pinus lambertiana (Sugar Pine)

A guest post from award-winning poet, essayist, and radio presenter, Molly Fisk. Molly gardens in Nevada City, California. Her beguiling radio essays are broadcast on KVMR-FM and collected on two CDs, Using Your Turn Signal Promotes World Peace and Blow-Drying a Chicken.


One of my favorite days of the year is December 26th. It's not that I don't like the 25th - I do. It's just that no matter how hard I try, Christmas will get my number one way or another. It's so loaded with meaning, memory, expectation, and effort. I find myself happily wrapping little presents and singing the third and fourth verses of carols I didn't know I remembered. But after the ribbons and scotch tape, the cooking and socializing, which has been building for weeks, and then the crescendo of the day itself, I'm more than ready for lethargy and solitude.

On the 26th, I stay in my nightgown all morning, browsing through the books people gave me, now and then washing a dish or two. I go for a walk by myself, just to feel my feet on the ground and remember the human animal was designed for walking. I don't get into the car. Lord knows, I don't need groceries, and anything else can wait. My woodstove's flue got stuck last night at the half-way point, so I'll have to pay more attention to stoking the fire than usual. But I won't call for help until tomorrow.

Today the weather is clear and bright and freezing. I live on an acre of mostly open land. When I first arrived, I began planting trees to shade the house and provide more habitat for birds. A decade later, I've started a secret post-Christmas tradition. This is the day I go outside and talk to my trees. I know: it sounds like I've had too much eggnog, but remember, poets are allowed to be a little strange.

I place my hand on each trunk and say hello to the Persimmon, the two Crab apples, the Willow, Maple, Box Elder, and Purple Mountain Ash. I greet the hundred-year-old Apple tree that broke in half last summer under the weight of its own green fruit. I pay my respects to the Almond, which flowers but never sets nuts, to the six Blue Oaks reaching 30 feet into the sky, and the single scrawny Sugar Pine. I walk to the back of my studio and nod to the Little-Leaf Linden I brought in because our town is full of its sisters, flourishing here since the Gold Rush. I stand in the spot where I'd like to plant an Apricot, and wander over to the Juniper to run my hand through its prickly branches.

Some of these trees are going to live longer than I do. I may have planted a few, but I don't own them, I'm just the custodian - glad for their shade and the rustle of wind in their leaves. I go out with my broom on snowy mornings and gently thump the ice from their limbs. I prune the crossed branches and cry if a storm brings them down.

In one of his poems, Robert Frost mentions a Witness Tree - one that marks a common lot line. On the day after Christmas, I have become the reverse: a Tree Witness: slowing my pace so I can meander through the yard and greet these steadfast companions.



To leave a comment click on the word COMMENTS below

22 comments:

Grace Peterson said...

I love this. Communing with the nature of trees and their faithful, towering stillness is the antithesis of the concrete jungle and all its hustle bustle. Good therapy.

susie said...

I love this post. I talk to trees all the time...or rather they talk to me....maybe a little of both. That sugar pine doesn't look so scrawny to me, aren't they they best pine cones!

Roses and Lilacs said...

Robert Frost is my favorite poet. His rural poems really connect. Talking to your trees sounds like a lovely tradition. I read a blog on the 21st, the solstice, another lady had the same tradition. I admit to talking to my trees and birds and occasionally a blooming garden plant but usually not on any given day. I do wish all my wild birds a Merry Christmas as I fill their feeders.
Marnie

Bren said...

WOW... gorgeous!

Genevieve said...

I love this. A tree custodian.

I actually got my first (gardening) job because I got carried away with honesty and told my prospective boss that I felt trees and plants were my friends and were waiting for me, in a way, to get to know them better, and that's what I intended to do.

I immediately felt embarrassed, but she later told me she hired me for just that reason. She gave me a copy of The Findhorn Garden when I moved away. I miss her.

Melanie said...

I love that you are talking to trees. The fact they live so long makes me think of them as being a solid stalwart in our changing world. Although The Mountain Pine Beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae, has flourished where I live, due to warmer winters, and destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of natural forest. I suppose its the illusion of trees being strong I find comforting.

the gardeners cottage said...

What a beautiful post. I love your feelings about Christmas. So well put and right on the money. December 26th IS just a nice deep breath.

~janet

Rebecca sweet said...

Wow - this has got to be one of my favorite posts. I'm always impressed when someone can so simply paint a picture with words...and what a picture you've painted! I never really thought about it, but I feel exactly the same way and will never look at the 26th the same again...thanks for bringing to light the 'peace' that the 'day after' brings!

p.s. plus - the Sugar Pine is my all time favorite tree in Northern California - beautiful photo!

Molly Fisk said...

Thanks so much to everyone for your comments! I'm glad you're all in relationship to trees you know, too. There is something wonderful about how much older they are than we, how stalwart. I wish you all shade, fruit, blossoms, and good climbing limbs in 2010 (not necessarily in that order). If you'd like to get my essays like this weekly, you can subscribe at http://www.mollyfisk.com under "Radio Essays." Many thanks to Mrs. Daffodil Planter for including me in her great blog.

Daffodil Planter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Morrison said...

I can only echo the comments before me - a wonderful post.

I'm often surprised at how many people do not want trees as part of their landscape. "Too much maintenance," "They're messy" and the one that comes up the most "They block my view of the golf course." Why oh why is a view of a golf course considered worthy of preservation?

Maybe I should send them an anonymous subscription to Molly's newsletter.

Rosey Pollen said...

You just have a way of speaking to my heart! I have found many hours of peace wandering the forests around my house. It seems to heal my spirit. Thanks for this wonderful post.
Rosey

Anonymous said...

Beautifully presented. Trees are sublime. The archaic trees far precede our species. We know that their beauty, their abundant fruiting, and their shelter, is not for our sake. Therefore, we rest against their slow rhythms and their dependable indifference.
Claire

Elephant's Eye said...

After reading this, I gave deep sigh, such writing transports me to a better place. Where the trees are not felled, because the leaves are messy. Oh Please! Posting tomorrow - your favourite tree?

Gloria Bonde said...

Hi-I love trees. I have often said to my husband, that I wished the first thing I had planted in my garden were the trees, especially the compact, tall junipers. When all the leaves fall and the flowers are covered with snow, I have those trees. They protect my view from the trappings of civilization and they give us green against a blue sky. Two great colors, green and blue-Gloria

Carol said...

What a moving post Molly. To honor our trees and yet not feel we 'own' them. I love how you allow the day after Christmas to be 'your day' a slow day then stand with your trees and commune or speak with each... a lovely image appears. All best in this New Year! Carol

Bangchik said...

I wish I could write as sweet.... Beauty! ~bangchik

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

A beautiful piece.

This is a true rite for the day after Christmas.

Really wonderful, Happy new year,

Tessa at Blunders with shoots, blossoms 'n roots said...

Ah! A tree whisperer! You made me smile tonight- Happy New year to you...now I must go say hello to our new trees :)

Kate said...

Hi;
This was wonderful. I talk to trees, too. I ask them to grow faster but they hardly ever do what I say!

Jeannie in Sacramento said...

I join the throng...this is lovely. I always love the post-Christmas season, the quiet time, but never would have said it as lovely as this. I think you may have started a new tradition for all of us. :D Jeannie

Pomona Belvedere said...

I like this idea as a tradition, too. I think all of us who love plants talk to them...it's good to admit it in public.