Saturday, May 9, 2009

THOUGHTS AT THE BREAKFAST TABLE


While eating breakfast at the small table on the front porch this morning, enjoying 68 degrees temps and the prelude to morning rain, I spied two trees in our woods, perhaps two feet apart, long trunks bent at the same level and facing in the same direction. The trees, now leafed out in a brilliant lime-green hue, resemble long human legs with bent knees and set me to thinking about how much we attribute human and animal characteristics to trees and flowers – in forms, faces, and expressions.

I remember the story my grandmother once told about my love of flowers when I was just beginning to talk. She planted a great round bed of pansies in the front yard yearly, and when we walked to inspect her flowers, a twice-a-day event, I always ran to the bed, bent down and buried my face in the flowers, exclaiming, “Puppy dog faces.” If you haven’t considered the similarity between this flower and a canine face, gaze at the soft-faced pansy sometime and see if you can visualize the resemblance.

My youngest daughter, Elizabeth, sent me 15 red roses for Mothers’ Day, and I know that the delicate shape and color of the blooms signify human expressions of love at its fullest. Clumps of Dianthus bordering my back walk remind me that my father planted them every year because the flowers bore a resemblance to his daughter’s name and he attributed similarities in appearance.

Here at Sewanee, cultivated flowers flourish, but wild vegetation also abounds. There are areas on The Mountain where walking, birding, and hiking take place in the dense vegetation of abundant woods and where numerous thickets of pine, oak, sourwood, hemlock, redbud, dogwood, and rhododendron “congregate” and enthrall nature lovers.

According to Russ Manning, settlers heading west across the Cumberland Plateau caught glimpses of crab apple trees blooming in grand profusion at the western foot of the mountains that are on the eastern edge of the Plateau. The mountains were called “Crab Orchard,” and the crab apple orchards provided a rest stop for travelers heading west. A large two story inn, “The Crab Orchard Inn” was built on a small knoll but was later torn down. Many of the old trails on the Cumberland Plateau were once Cherokee trails, and most of the Plateau was once owned by the Cherokees. Backpackers and serious hikers constantly explore the Cumberland Plateau to experience its natural beauty, sometimes moving from Tennessee to parts of Kentucky, Alabama, and Georgia, seeking protected areas.

Well, this vignette began on an anthropomorphic subject and seems to have finished on a note of nature exploration… inspired by breakfast on the porch. The above photograph of the two bent-knee trees may arouse your curiosity about this idea of vegetation/human forms.

A snippet I wrote about the resemblance of Joshua trees to human forms published in AFTERNOONS IN OAXACA:

NEAR CARTAGO, CALIFORNIA (Population 75)

Salt flats, fields of uncommon snow,
blush at the edges,

brine shrimp wriggling pinkly.

Not a mile from the turn-off to Death Valley.
Joshua trees suddenly jut up,

old men with arms linked,
standing too close to each other…

grumbling to the sun.

Note: Photo by Victoria I. Sullivan
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