There is a poem by Joyce Kilmer entitled Trees that I would like to share. Kilmer, a soldier in the US Army, was killed during World War I at the age of 31.
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
As I wander through the woods, I occasionally see perfect trees. They are perfectly straight and symmetrical. Their branches spread out near the bottom and are narrow near the top, with never a bare or barren branch. Sometimes, after admiring such a tree, I will return a month later to see the tree toppled, only to learn that the core was rotten and infested by ants.
Sometimes, I see trees that show signs of abuse by weather, by wind, by other trees, and by other forces that were not kind. Despite all of these forces, the tree, disfigured and ugly, still manages to grow. It withstands forces to bend its trunk with only a slight curve to show for its pain. When branches are broken and fall away so often the tree loses its symmetry. But despite everything, some trees still grow tall and straight. But the signs of the injuries never dissipate.
If that tree could talk, what would it say? “I have had other trees that fell upon me because they were weak. It was only after years that they finally decayed and fell away, but they caused me to lean. It took me years to straighten, although I still have a slight bow. I have branches that reach to others and reach to the sky, but when ice and snow fall upon them, they sometimes break. I have fought off parasites, like insects, that ate my bark and my needles. I have endured drought and flood. I am injured by my many battles with nature, and the forces that be, but I have never stopped reaching for the sky.
"Here I am; battle weary, wounded and alone; an ugly old tree. But, I still stand tall, and despite my many injuries, I still stand straight. And I stand far above the other trees.”
The old maple tree
Most trees spend their lives without notice by humans, but they are noticed only by the birds and squirrels that inhabit the forest where they live in harmony. But there was a maple tree that I noticed and I want to tell its story.
I cannot say when it was born, or more accurately sprouted, since its life started before I was born. The area was burned in a forest fire that took place around 1943. I presume that it was the first growth after the fire. It was near the road and probably large enough to escape my father’s brush clearing. It was between the road and a swamp which my father converted into a small pond. There are many pictures of that pond on this site.
That tree is one of my earliest memories. I cannot remember at what age, but I was probably four or five years old. At that time, it was a large and beautiful tree. The leaves were bright and vivid in the autumn.
As time passed, the tree grew larger and larger, with smaller trees growing around it. It probably reached its peak in the 1970s, and then started to decline. Its health deteriorated in the 1980s and a large branch was trimmed so that electric wires could be installed. The decline became more substantial and there was noticeable rot in its large trunk.
In December 2008, there was a very bad ice storm. Every tree near the old maple tree came down, but it was still standing. Every branch and every twig was removed by the ice and falling pine trees, but it was still standing. It was nothing but a rotted old hulk, but it was still standing. If you looked at certain angles, you could see right through the trunk because of the rot, but it was still standing.
In May 2010, the very top of the tree came back to life and it was green. It seemed like a miracle. I have seen trees growing out of seemingly solid rock in a quixotic quest for life, but this was beyond anything I have seen before. The tree literally came back to life for one more summer, for one more glimpse of the sun. It was as if some force said to the tree, “It is not yet your time to die!”
The summer of 2011 was very dry and the top of the tree was no longer green. The small branches were there, but there was no sign of life. On the evening of July 13, 2012, Friday the thirteenth, a gust of wind took the tree down. Rest in peace: 1943 – 2012.
Seeing the tree with that burst of life at the top reminded me of the O Henry story “The Last Leaf.” (I wish I could write that well!) If you have never read the story, go to: The Last leaf. In the story, the young woman had pneumonia and she gave up on life. As she lay in bed, she watched each leaf fall off the vine outside her window. She decided that when the last leaf falls, she would die. The story has a surprise ending which I will not reveal. But I looked at that tree and could not believe that a tree would have such a strong will to live. It should be a lesson to all of us!