Sunday, July 17, 2011

Listening to the trees

Listening to the trees

By Bobby Neal Winters

Sometimes at night I will be lying awake in the darkness and the trees will talk to me. The traffic from the bypass will be nil. The sirens will be silent. The trains will be still.

And I can hear the trees. Some folks who are of a different turn might say that the wind is causing vibration in the leaves on the trees, but I know they are speaking to me. They say, “There is a storm coming” or “The storm will skirt off” or “There will be rain but no wind” or “There will only be wind.” Sometimes it’s hard to tell because I don’t speak tree as well as I used to. I grew up speaking tree all the time, but these days I’ve lost my fluency.

But they speak to me anyway, the ones around the house do, because I’ve planted them all. Wait that is inaccurate. My wife and I have planted them, or, in some cases, have suffered to allow them to remain planted. Some of our trees are the result of forgetful squirrels. The squirrels did the planting, but we allowed them first through ignorance and then through laziness and then through sentimentality to remain.

A tree in town is a lot of responsibility because it makes trash. It is a bother. Then in the winter ice can break off limbs and in the spring a storm might come through and push it onto your house or, worse, your neighbor’s.

But through various combinations of arboreal enthusiasm, squirrel dementia, and luck, we’ve got a yard full of trees. They are mature, healthy, and in their prime. I’ve seem some of them grow from things that could be quite happy in a plastic cup, contemplating a choice between bonsai-hood and life out in the yard, to something that could heat a home for a few days.

When I was a boy, I lived among trees. There were trees in the space--the park we called it--between my house and that of my grandparents. There were a group of five or six that I think of in particular. There were others that stood in a line, but these were grouped into what I want to call a copse. I don’t actually know what a copse is. It is a fine word connected with groups of trees, but it seems so fine that perhaps five or six trees is not enough to form one.

Nevertheless, there were these trees which--to me as a boy--seemed to be giant trees. These were what trees were like when they grew up. I thought of them as being eternal, existing forever into the past as had my father, mother, grandfather, and grandmother, who were also giants themselves.

But into my hands comes a strange, old picture: men sitting, standing, squatting beneath this copse of trees. It is clearly the same trees that I had grown up with, but they are different. They are smaller. They are not the trees that were eternal and existed, going forever into the past. These trees who had taught me their language were once young trees. The men beneath them were younger versions of my grandfather, my father, my uncles.

My grandfather, my father, my uncles are all now gone. And the copse of trees was greatly wounded by the storms of this last spring. The winds fell them and my brother had them piled and burned, smoke rising as from the pyre of a fallen Caesar.

Men and trees are both mortal. If the god’s and heroes can pass, then so can I.

My trees are talking to me again, and it is not the wind in the leaves. They are growing taller, looking like trees are supposed to look when they grow up. I’ve pictures of myself standing beside them when they are yet baby trees, child trees, adolescent trees. My hair has grown whiter; my face more etched with laugh-lines; my shape more like that of the adult male gorilla.

Trees have a less predictable life as they live in the out of doors. They may be fell by wind or winter, but I know they may well outlive me. After I am gone, they may still be giving shade to the passerby and food to the squirrel. Given the memory span of the squirrel and the inattention, laziness, and sentimentality of the human animal, they may do that for yet another generation.

At least this is what they tell me. Do you hear it?

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