Halfway along our near-daily stroll,
Dad stopped before a line of Lombardy poplars.
Will and I waited as he saluted
Trunks supple like runners stretching
Their lean chests to shatter the victory ribbon
And leaf-light flickers,
Movement not substance,
The liveliest of leaves we had ever beheld.
Adapted coins, silver-bottomed, these fish-leaves
Dove through sunlight with the flitting joy
Of birds, of insects
Sipping the nectar of morning.
Over the years, the poplar grove sickened.
We did not know why:
Predatory larvae, soured soil, caustic air,
But now the runners stand frozen,
The ribbon unbroken,
The winged leaves dropped years ago
And moldered, swallowed by earth
That tastes of enchantment and dust.
No house of worship with jewel windows
Transubstantiating a fragile day to eternal rose
Could match the grandeur of these trees—
Deity and temple both, the ancient redwoods,
Serene, majestic, observers of ages in tranquility.
Mortal cities swell and collapse
On the in- and out-breath of these guardians of time.
Walking among them,
I share their breath of stars, ships, bored kings, the bones of toilers
Ground between millstones
And the engines of war.
But all these ripenings and strivings,
Refulgences and losses lie far from here,
Amid great trees breathing
In their diminished demesne—
Too few, these sentinels, to midwife the restless ages to come;
Too fidgety, too fitful are the sparks that pass beneath,
Watching not this gentle respiration of timelessness
But staring instead at the leashed lights in their hands,
Googling the redwoods their shoulders would brush
If they but leaned in a little nearer.
One of two old Sitka spruces,
The stately old lady we call Iluvatar
Shades the east side of the house.
Where roots meet earth, she is an altar—
To approach her, you must ascend.
Her satellite saplings orbit her,
Straight young trunks piercing
The antique lace of her outermost branch-tips.
In spring, we watch the birth of new lace
At those edges,
That innocent green
Brilliant against the stain
Of wiser needles.
A miniature grove of trilliums
Flourishes at her roots.
A few years ago, I learned
That scientists confirmed what
The Siletz peoples always knew:
The big trees call in the rain.
Iluvatar is calling now.
She summons the dampness that nourishes
The myriad mosses and the ferns,
The profligate soil where the squirrels dig.
Her topmost branches dance for rain.
She names the first drops and they answer.
I stand beneath her uplifted limbs and let them spatter me.
My skin drinks.
Imperfect forest at the edge
Between tourist bustle and the water-treatment plant,
You are too scanty, but still your alder trees
Sport stars on their backs,
And their skins bear that mottled beauty
Of slim arms draped with usnea
And trunks stippled, dappled,
Carrying their lifelong freight of lichens,
A galaxy each one cultivates
As time turns them silver, the color of culmination.
So many scruffy stands of woods
Linger between the incoming tide
Of human dwellings and the managed, beaten countryside
But like the muddy work of raising children,
You are “good enough”—
The ribbons of wild space humans allow
To remain, if only for a while,
At our callow convenience, our blinkered pleasure.
I hope you expand so slowly
That they don’t notice,
Commandeering old motels
And sticking your twig fingers
Into stacks of merchandise,
Your roots toppling
Racks of cheap sunglasses and strangling soda machines.
Trees, take back the day.
I have witnessed you swallowing abandoned roads
And collapsing outbuildings.
You can melt these useless medallions
Of dubious progress.
Grow and flourish, star-barked companions;
Long may your winged leaves wave
When the brief and long-limbed runners have halted forever,
And all their accolades dissolve into humus and birdsong.