09 August 2012

oh, trees

This summer has been particularly hard on the trees in my neighborhood.

First, there were the men with their chainsaws, come to chop down the ash trees, although I suppose for equality's sake, I should say "the people." Women, of course, could have done this, this strategic wielding of chainsaws.

I assume it was chainsaws, but the image of them taking down the trees, chunk by chunk, with a lumberjack-type saw is, for some reason, appealing. How Paul Bunyan of them. It makes me think of forging the towns of America through the forests of untouched land—tearing down the trees one by one to build houses and then fences and then churches.

But I'm sure the city workers used chainsaws as they took away the ash trees: those trees had been infected by the emerald ash borer, and they had to be gotten rid of. They had to be sawed away.

Second, there was a storm so massive it uprooted trees, sending them sprawling into power lines and telephone lines. Their roots were exposed as they exposed all of us—so dependent on light and air conditioning and communication.

The storm's damage stopped the town for a few days, put us into a daze. How do you move a tree? How do you navigate these now-unfamiliar streets? How do you keep food cold?

And then the trees were gone—cleaned up by crews who made mulch out of all those downed trees. One group of tree workers, sitting on the curb and waiting for the mulching truck to come back to that block, told me that they made mulch to sell. Profiting off the storm and the downed trees, turning it all back into something you can spread around your professional landscaping.

My neighborhood now feels naked and treeless, even though it isn't. There are still trees, but it's the stumps of reminders of what used to be that makes me stop short and marvel at the way things change.

And how we have a way of adapting to them. Six months from now, will I remember what the street looked like when it was tree-lined? When the stump is gone, who will remember that a tree was once there?

In this frame of mind, I stumbled on a poem about just the reverse of this—about trees growing where there once was a different life. And so I'm sharing it here in celebration of trees and change.

Wendell Berry

I go by a field where once
I cultivated a few poor crops.
It is now covered with young trees,
for the forest that belongs here
has come back and reclaimed its own.
And I think of all the effort
I have wasted and all the time,
and of how much joy I took
in that failed work and how much
it taught me. For in so failing
I learned something of my place,
something of myself, and now
I welcome back the trees.

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