Thursday, April 5, 2012


it's early, very early—too early for most people to get out of bed if they don't need to—but i like early. from where i stand in the yard, waiting for the dogs to do their business, the black silence of morning is like a satisfyingly protracted yawn, or a long pause between sentences.

but why the pause? is it because the writer can't think of what should come next? has no new ideas? can't find the right words? or is it because the writer is focused on something other than what's on the page, focused on listening, perhaps?

what's the writer listening to? what's out there?

in our little woods in maine wildness prevails—that is, as well as it can prevail with neighbors visible through the trees on both sides of us. we have done very little in terms of clearing trees (after the initial clearing of enough land for a modest house and yard), and we take care of only necessary clean ups after storms. over the (many) years we have trimmed out some undergrowth, cut up dead trees on the edge of the yard, and those which have fallen—or are about to fall—too close to the house. other than that, we have left the forest pretty much as it presents itself to us—after being thrashed by winter—each spring, with the exception of some as-needed foraging for, and tidying up of, fallen twigs and branches and small trees that are in a ready-to-use state for the fireplace, or the fire pit out back.

our neighbors to the west keep the forest adjacent to their yard in a state of fussy perfection—an immaculate, unnatural perfection—with no dead or fallen anything to provide food or shelter for animals or to aid in the germination of seeds. hardly a stick remains (an exaggeration, but you get the idea). every twig is raked away, every branch removed, no rotting stumps or logs or limbs or trees are allowed to stay on their forest floor—they are all chain-sawed into oblivion.

i, on the other hand, believe a good bit of well-placed rot should be left alone in the woods: stumps covered in a growth of verdant moss and rich with fungi which are even now providing a home for small animals and insects while simultaneously turning into nutrient-laced soil; a few tall trees still anchored to the ground but broken in half, their crowns—toppled by storms or lightning strikes or disease—resting peacefully on the forest floor beside them and quickly surrounded by new growth;  trees leaning drunkenly on other trees, dying from within.

it's a mess when mother nature's doing her thing, but i like a natural mess—a mess that fosters an undisturbed small-scale wildness that lives here in our suburban woods.

long, lean and branchless, the broken trees are beacons, symbols, totems of the living kinship group of the forest. these dying trees are vital, they are providers—they provide for the life of the forest. many of them exist—are encouraged to exist—on my patch of land; they are allowed to remain in their broken state, untouched by humans. this is what i see: the stark outline of forest poles. and from where the fractured trees stand to the north of me, i hear, as the sky gets lighter, a sound—a deep, hollow drumming—that fills the silence, fills the gap between sentences.

i can't see him—the light is too dim and he is too shy—but a pileated woodpecker is out there among the totems—a large black bird with a flash of white and red—hammering his meticulous rectangular designs in the dead and dying trees. for a while the trees will live on and provide for spring's flourish of new birth with their insect-filled cores and carved out nesting hollows.

hear it. susurrando. the emptiness is slowly being replaced by exhaled breath and joyous flight, the first notes of morning song and a wild, unhindered delight.


Jayne said...

Oh, Lordy, breathtaking, that last sentence. All of it! You're a poet, m.

And you make me feel a helluva lot better about my yard. Everything in it now looks dead or fallen. I was just eying it this morning, thinking about calling a tree service. A neighbor even asked what happened to all the trees. Did National Grid cut some down? Hubby like to leave it as is, and so do I, but with our kids, and neighborhood kids playing in the woods that is our yard, I worry about the widow makers. Yet, I see it glorious as is. :)

Anonymous said...

I second your friends comments. Moving piece about the life around us that we ignore or destroy.