Thursday, July 3, 2008

IF TREES COULD TALK

By the end of July, I should be singing “Where did all the flowers go?” –this morning, I found a perfect marigold head and the orange face of a zinnia lying in the grass – nipped in the bud, cut off at the neck, shorn of their glory early on. I wish that the assailants would at least devour the remains so I don’t have to view the lovely, beheaded blooms staring up at me, proud discards of some nocturnal animal.

The marigolds and zinnias are part of beds blooming along the sidewalk in my backyard, directly across the lawn from a towering hemlock, perhaps 80 ft. high, which I gave the misnomer of “cedar” in an earlier blog. The Eastern Hemlock grows abundantly in various locations around Sewanee, near Tracy City, Monteagle, and Lookout Mountain. What a giant Christmas tree my hemlock is with its dense canopy! It forms a patch of shade that covers one quarter of the backyard. The same deer and bunnies that damage my flower beds browse under this tall hemlock almost daily and have eaten the daylilies and unripe blackberries nestling in its shade.

Presently, the hemlock in many southern areas have become infested with a small aphid-like bug, a tiny insect dark reddish brown to purplish black in color called the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid. When this bug matures, it forms a wooly-like wax filament to protect itself and its eggs. These ovisacs can be seen on the underside of hemlock branches in early summer and late fall, but, so far, the giant tree in my yard doesn’t seem to be infected. We’re told not to put bird feeders near the tree, and some people use foliage sprays to keep out the insect, but the best control involves predators. I was hoping these predators would be the deer and bunnies that roam brazenly, day and night, in my backyard, but I understand the predators that destroy adelgids must be imported from China, Japan, and Western North America. If I’m forced to write off for a crate of ???animals, goodness knows what else they’ll find to eat in my struggling flower beds.

In any case, the hemlock is a beautiful ornamental and is the vegetation that I point to as the premier plant in my backyard. It can rival our Louisiana oaks in size and bower, but, of course, I prefer those drooping old oaks in New Iberia. I once ended a Gothic novel about New Iberia with the words, “if only these old oaks could talk, they’d tell us some amazing stories, but perhaps they understand Confucius’ saying: ‘Silence is a true thing and never betrays.’” Mais yeah!

And here’s a different perception of trees from my chapbook THE BOOK OF UNCOMMON POETRY, published by Border Press:

TERROR IN TREES

A tree sprang out,
some small violation of space,
enough to stop him, cross his eyes,
wet his cowlick,
bounce him backwards
to a small concussion,
the force of his impulse
usually conquering all space
became gravity mitigated,
the world whirling around him,
him whirling around the world.

On the day they called me,
reporting his bloody mouth
and unknown injury,
known terror struck me,
him, my immortal passage,
beloved of loved ones,
my grandson, struck down by a tree.

Ran into a tree?
Yes, never saw it coming,
suspect goose
governed by some false power,
believed that his running
would outwit the wind,
his body enter a tree and pass through,
would cause stones to disappear from his path,
and he was hypermagically swift.

Stunned, I think,
it’s my legacy to him
to run into barriers
instead of sidestepping.
I lie awake, listening to wind
rustling the pines in my yard,
and no longer lulled by their quiet swish,
for both of us, trees become now,
every last one of them, suspect,
whispering “look out ahead.”
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