Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Hemlock at 65 Fairbanks Circle,
Sewanee TN
We returned from central Florida to discover freezing and below freezing temperatures on The Mountain here at Sewanee, Tennessee, and this morning thirteen-degree weather fostered snow that has been flurrying most of the day. The tall, beautiful hemlock in our backyard, one of the "redwoods of the East," has a dusting of white on its slightly drooping branches, a graceful reminder that we're surrounded by forests—and subject to severe winters.

The towering hemlock in my yard may be over 100 feet tall and stands alone, a giant tree of pyramidal shape that has escaped (so far) the hemlock wooly adelgid that has been attacking sister hemlocks here on the Cumberland Plateau. The Tennessee Division of Forestry predicts that in the next few years all of the hemlocks in Tennessee counties will suffer adelgid invasions. However, one measure of control that has been suggested is the use of predator beetles, and I'm wondering if those ladybugs that continue to hover about in our garage could be put to use. After we returned from Florida, I found a few live ones setting up house in a bedroom and promptly evicted them, but they persist in other places, throwing out an acrid scent when I disturb them.

Another treatment for control of adelgids that attack hemlocks has been the use of chemical control, but this is an effort that should be coordinated with state and federal agencies— e.g., the National Park Service, the Tennessee Hemlock Conservation Partnership, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Eastman Chemical Company, and the East Tennessee Climbers Coalition.

Meanwhile, I still see nocturnal animals disappearing under the drooping branches of our hemlock in all its unpruned and unsheared expansiveness. It's a hardy conifer and has a long life span, perfectly at home in rocky soil. I hope that it sticks around as long as I live on The Mountain and have threatened to try medicinal tea brewed from its bark but am leaving this to the critters who drink at its feet nightly.

A good friend of mine who has been reading my poetry for decades recently declared that a poem I wrote about the mighty hemlock in my yard was the best poem in my latest book of poetry, In A Convent Garden, and I'm republishing it below to cheer her on in her recovery from a recent surgery:


Foresters call it a "superlative,"
the 100-foot hemlock tree,
a green cathedral pyramiding in my backyard,
now threatened by the hemlock wooly,
but the traffic I observe
underneath its lower branches
tells me it doesn't have declining health;
I've seen rabbits, coons, skunks, red foxes
emerge from underneath its crown
and wonder if it isn't an all night tavern
where creatures make music,
dance, act out plays on a makeshift stage,
having a desire for entertainment
and happiness not unlike ours,
animals that come out of hiding at dawn
wearing carnival masks,
weaving in the bright beam
of the lighted parking lot,
passing out of view when the world is quiet,
the hemlock keeping their secrets.
A serious matter,
these forest dwellers with nightly passions,
although I sidestep their back rooms,
unwilling to take a look
into the tangled undergrowth
for fear one of them is still there,
leaning on the bar, singing
"Show me the way to go home,"
and I will have to oblige.

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