When I was a senior in college I had the honor of living in the Joyce Kilmer Room. To refresh your memory of ninth-grade English class, Joyce Kilmer was a poet who was killed in World War I at the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918 at the age of 31. He wrote many poems but the one you might remember from that English class is “Trees.”
“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the eath’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;”
The poem goes on for a few more verses but you get the idea of a dreamy young poet looking at a tree the way we all should. Any reader of the poem should see trees through a special new lens and never take a tree for granted again. As a requirement for living in the Joyce Kilmer room I had to memorize “Trees.” You would be surprised how many times being able to recite that poem has come in handy over the years. I harken back to that poem now because it seems that the trees hereabouts are taking a beating.
Between the fires, the windstorms and the drought there are big trees that are toppled or in pain all over wine country. It’s sad. The trees are like the sentinels in the vineyards and the protectors of the hills. The utilities aren’t helping the tree population any as they take preventions and mark trees for removal.
I noticed a large oak on our property that was marked with what looked like an Egyptian hieroglyphic in iridescent green spray paint. The last time the tree was pruned the arborist noted that this particular tree was about 150 years old. Lo and behold, I arrived just as a crew wearing goggles and hard hats parked the big truck out front and sharpened their chain saws.
The removal of this old oak was not to be. I summoned the courage of Joyce Kilmer and explained to the crew that the reason why the tree looked dead was because it is winter. All the trees look dead right now, so please don’t cut down this heritage oak. It was clear that the crew did not include an arborist or botanist. Rather, they were guys who looked for green hieroglyphics on trees and went about their work. They had no idea that the spirit of Joyce Kilmer was between their chain saws and our oak tree. They shrugged and got back in the truck to look for the next suffering green spray painted tree.
I could sense our oak sag with relief. Just to be sure, I scraped the green spray paint off the tree to avoid any confusion and murmured to the tree that I would take care of it. Then, I scooped up hundreds of acorns and sowed them in spots where I thought they might grow. Turns out old gopher tunnels are a good spot for planting. I even collected some “buckeyes” from an old chestnut tree to plant. (Aside — a buckeye might be the biggest seed I’ve ever seen.)
Call me a “tree hugger” if you want although that term carries with it such political baggage and I am not in that camp. Rather, call me a guy who likes trees and who is a little sad when he sees those big trucks go by carrying huge logs that used to be trees. The trees I am planting now are probably for all of our grandchildren but I suspect Joyce Kilmer would approve. Trees have had a hard time lately — give one a little love.
Rich Moran spends his time in wine country enjoying nature, especially trees.
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