Thursday, February 2, 2012

Carpe diem, carpe noctum...

  " It smells like snow out here," the thought struck me like a butterfly would if it had landed on your shoulder on a breeze-less day.

The sky was gray; not plain gray, but gray with a purple, black, charcoal lining.

Gray which soaked into the clouds trying to reflect the morning sun's rising. Gray that seemed to cloak the trees and their gnarled, dancing branches in a hooded veil of silver. Gray that caused the street-lamps to have a golden, haloed glow even at 7:03 in the morning.

It felt like the witching hour, as though if I said the wrong thing, the crow following me this morning (and he did follow me, cackling every once in a while along the length of my walk) would swoop down, land on my shoulder and berate me for disturbing the moment.

The trees seemed to breathe, as though if I turned my eyes away for a moment, they could exhale in relief, only to have me look back at them, now holding my own breath to see if I could note their gently, slowly, minutely waving trunks, the roll of their breath expanding downwards from the sky.

Time felt still, as though I had stumbled upon a scene forever frozen by my presence. The magic could not float on the mist, nor crackle from branch to branch, nor gust over the crow, waiting to float on its currents.

The trees this morning seemed more alive to me than usual. Trees are always alive.

They are the ancients holding the wisdom of the earth. Just as the elephants, sea turtles, whales, and other enormous, seemingly ancient species have knowledge of soulful things that we humans can never quite grasp.

Even the smallest mite has a world all to it's own that we can perhaps never even begin to fathom. The trees, the animals, the living creatures who can't manufacture plastic; these beings are the wise ones...

Glancing up and down the street I felt a chill begin at the top of my head and trickle slowly down me. Not an unpleasant shudder, like that when you're looking closely at something and recognitive danger hits you full in the face...

   "What's that inside that sun umbrella? It looks like a giant rock fell in there.... NOPE! THAT'S A HORNET'S NEST! AAAAH, RUUUUNNNN!!!!"

I frequently have had those moments stun me; nature has defenses that I've a deep and thorough respect for.

This chill, however thrilling and goose-bump raising, was one of awareness, of acknowledgement that the mysteries live on unnoticed every day. The magic in the world resides and pulses, filling up all the gray areas that we take for granted.

I absolutely LOVE trees. I am a self-proclaimed tree hugger; J has even taken pictures of me doing it. Touching a tree is such an amazing experience. The smell, the texture of their barky-skin, the sounds they make, the breadth they hold, the energy that envelops you around them... trees are wondrous, amazing and breathtaking creatures.

When I was a little girl, I lived in the great plains. I felt as though the center of things was where the earth met the sky, and again where the ocean met the sky. In our front yard, we had lush grass and a very, VERY tall soft pine tree. It's sap was delicious smelling (but tasted spicy, bitter and thick) like cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla with a hint of fresh cedar laced earth.

I used to spend hours with that tree, leaning against it's bark (ruining my clothes because sap is not easy to remove) staring up into its branches while lying flat on my back on the ground - the upside down feeling washing over me like some sort of physiological high from my imagination. I still like to lay on my back and zoom upwards in flight, climbing from branch to branch without any fear of falling; just the dizzying sensation that I was up at the top of the tree, riding it's energy like an invisible surf.

That tree had the best hand-holds, foot-holds, and seat. It's first two branches were strong and sturdy; big enough to swing up and sit very comfortably on, but not so big that you couldn't reach around to get a good hold, not too high so that you had to gasp to see if you'd make it into the tree's arms. Those first two branches were supple and comforting. I would lean against a hollow in the trunk; it fit my torso perfectly, as did a dip in the branch my weight was supported by. I'd snuggle up to that pine, breathing in it's smell, sending it warm wishes, love, my secrets, hopes and fears.

When we moved away from that house, that yard and those trees, I cried. I cried myself silly. I felt as though I couldn't bear it; it was such a jolt, a ripping shock to be taken away from the nooks and crannies of nature in which I felt safe.

Years later, as an adult, I went back to that house. The owners had painted it a horrid neon-creamy-peach color; it glowed. In the daytime.  That wasn't the worst part of it all. Not the ugly plastic just under life-size greyhound statues they'd put by the flagstone walk. Not the tearing down of the lovely built in porch swing which they'd replaced with a stripey-awning covered monstrosity. Not the empty, desecrated flowerbeds, which we'd had full of pansies and holly, no.... my tree...

They'd cut it's first four branches clean off, and again removed more limbs further up.

I lost my self-control. I felt enraged, angry and hurt. Walking slowly up to my tree, tears streaming down my face I whispered gently, wrapping my arms as widely as I could around the golden, silvery trunk, noticing the sap pools, rivers, like crusted, gooey dried blood on it's sides.

  "Maybe it was diseased..." my dad said softly, putting a hand on my shoulder.

   Impossible. No sign of rot, no tent-worms, no mites, not even ants were crawling on it's surface. I simply couldn't bear any more. I wanted to protect the tree, to carefully and meticulously dig it up, rent a truck and bring it home with us.

  I kissed one of the large, smooth scales on it's trunk, now flaking. Whispering again to my old, dear friend,

   "I never would have let this happen. It doesn't matter, except that it does. I love you. Grow strong, send your roots deep.  You'll grow even more beautiful branches, and I'll come back to visit. I promise," I vowed breathlessly, my throat swollen, my jaw tight because of the constriction of upset.

   I have been back to that tree. The last time was around 4 years ago. I owe it another visit soon. Perhaps this time when I turn down the old familiar street, the tar patched lines gently beating a rhythm with the tires on the gray pavement, I'll see that place again.

The house will be painted a new whitewash, the old 1920's bricks gleaming like new, freshly in the sun.

The flower bed will have purple pansies and marigolds and tulips, winking at me as I pull to the front curb, just before the driveway. The poplars will shimmer at me, their two-colored leaves flipping back and forth in greeting.

A new swing will hang from the end of the pillared flagstone porch, anchored in the ceiling.

The only thing framing the steps will be holly bushes, honeysuckle and red-earth colored planters holding little handfuls of geraniums.

My tree will be glorious. Strong, smooth knots where it's old arms used to be, there will be new branches beginning, supple, young and sprouting confidently. It's shade will again make a large, sacred, special circle on the ground, and I'll lay down,
                                              gaze up into it's depths,
                                                                               and sigh.


  1. Aww, at least they didn't cut it DOWN. That is such an awful feeling.

    I love trees, too. When I'm hiking late at night, I swear I can hear them talking to each other. Sometimes, I even get creeped out, like they are going to reach out and snatch me up and crush me, like angry Ents or something. "Get off my roots!"

  2. Yeah, they didn't kill it entirely, just mangled it. I know, it is awful. That's really exciting about the trees-- hiking at night is my favorite time to go; moonlit paths... heh heh, I thought I was the only one hearing the whispering. We should go together sometime when it's not GD cold out.