Tag Archive 'trees'

Jun 27 2018

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Architecture of the Wild

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Walking in the woods on a cool, early summer day, I take note of the trees around me. Some are relatively young, thin, and pushing straight up towards the sky. Others are strong, solid, well established, with limbs branching into the canopy. Still others are bent over, partially sheared away, or on the ground. But what catches my eye are the gnarly ones at least a hundred years old, maybe two hundred, with twisting limbs and thick bark. They are few and far between, and for every one still standing there are remnants of a dozen others scattered across the forest floor.

The bulges and scars in the trunks of those old fellows tell an incredible story of survival, as do the tortured branches reaching every which way. It is the architecture of the wild – proof positive that some life forms do not give up easy. Throw decades of heat, drought, frigid temps, heavy snowfall, torrential downpours, bacteria, fungus and insects at them, and they still keep going. Every one of them is a testament to the efficacy of wild nature, to the relentless urge of all organic things to live and grow. God only knows why.

Look around and you’ll see some trees losing the struggle to survive and slowly dying. Last week I hired a fellow to drop and remove a nearly dead one still standing in my yard – one too close to the house for comfort. I suspect another might be on the way in another year or two. Meanwhile the rest of the trees on my lot sway in the wind as if they don’t have a care in the world. It’s baffling, really, the way some trees stand up to the stresses of daily life and others succumb.

Dead saplings are not uncommon in the forest – most losing the race to sunlight. And yet the occasional mature birch, maple or oak grows only thicker and tougher with time, sometimes losing a huge limb or two yet still persisting. What moral can be taken from this? No, it’s best if we don’t go there, trying to uncover the secrets of their woody success. It’s best if we don’t even look at old trees that way, but simply admire them for what they are: bastions of life force, beating all odds, both relentless and remarkable.

 

 

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Jun 10 2016

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A Home Among the Trees

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new house finishedThanks to the generosity of our son Matt and his wife Joy, Judy and I are now moving into a new house nestled in a grove of maple trees. The master bedroom is on the first floor, the kitchen has all the modern conveniences, and we are only two miles outside of St. Albans. There is plenty of space upstairs for my fledgling book business to boot. It will be an excellent place to spend our old age – more than either one of us could have hoped for a year ago.

Judy loves everything about the house.  She and Joy have been working together for months hashing out the details, from the clawfoot bath tub and overhead fans to granite kitchen countertops and recessed lighting. She can’t get in there fast enough.

My bohemian brain is having a hard time processing all this. I have lived in nothing but old houses and apartments since I was a teenager, and was resigned to spending the rest of my life in a fixer-upper that always needs fixing up. What will I do with my spare time? More writing and tramping around the woods, I suppose.

I must confess that I wasn’t hep on the idea of moving when it was first proposed to me seven months ago, but I gradually warmed up to it as the house advanced through the various stages of construction. Then something unexpected happened. A hermit thrush sang out early in the morning as I was building bookshelves in the garage a couple weeks ago. That’s when it occurred to me just how sweet this place is. Judy and I now have a home among the trees, and all that entails. What an incredible stroke of good fortune!

 

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Oct 28 2010

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All Hallows Eve

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The remnant of a grand old tree still stands at a trail junction in nearby woods where I roam on a regular basis.  I’ve walked past it fifty times, at least.  Years back, shortly after the tree finally died, the rotting trunk of that tree rose nearly twenty feet from the ground, threatening to fall and crush a passer-by on any given day.  But now it is only the shadow of its former self.  Shadow indeed – a ghost reminding us of a once vital life form, now passed away.

In late autumn, when the trees drop their leaves and the forest turns many shades of brown and dark gray, the remnants of dead and downed trees become more apparent.  This is their time of year, when the growing season has ended and the harvest has been taken in.  Death is in the air.  I am not oblivious to it.  Few woods wanderers are.

All Hallows Eve, or Halloween as it is more commonly known, is only a few days away.  Based on Samhain, the Celtic festival of summer’s end, this holiday was hijacked by the Christians during the Middle Ages and transformed into All Saints Day.  And the night before it became All Hallows Eve – a night to venerate the dead.  But that doesn’t change the essence of it.  It is a night when the dead mingle with the living, when life and death, vitality and dormancy, abundance and barrenness, darkness and light are in perfect balance.  The forest itself is shouting this at us.

Here in northern Vermont, winter is only a few weeks away.  It comes at us hard and fast – sometimes before we can even rake up our leaves.  Already snow has fallen in the mountains.  Already the wooly worms are dressed for winter and predicting a harsh one.  At the local farm stand, there’s an abundance of squashes and gourds, but little else.  The warmer, more vibrant half of the year is behind us.  And like a squirrel gathering nuts, I am hunkering down for the other half.

So go ahead and scoff at those who believe in ghosts if you want.  No doubt the prospect of an afterlife of any sort seems ludicrous to those steeped in science and accustomed to thinking rationally.  But I see ghosts in the forest all the time, and am convinced that death isn’t nearly as distant as we think it is.  This time of year, in fact, I can’t stop thinking about it.

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