Sentinel trees

Oooh boy, am I in for a treat with the novel, “The Overstory,” by Richard Powers! Abandoned another piece of fiction in order to begin. Since that disqualifies me from airing any opinion about said abandoned book: My Lips are Sealed (but maybe I don’t like farce all that much?)

“The Overstory” is already blowing the top of my head off, in much the way that “Lincoln in the Bardo” did. Grace, Mo, Alden, Maureen, and Deb have all led me to it.

One of the prompts at the AWA writing retreat in August came from the opening page. I think you’ll swoon to read the lines, too:

The tree is saying things, in words before words.
It says: Sun and water are questions endlessly worth answering.

When I find what I wrote, I’ll post it, even though as I recall it was a bit opaque. In the meantime, scroll down for a response to another prompt that mentions the 250+ year old copper beech that dwells next door.

I’ve probably photographed this tree more than any other feature of our built or natural landscape. It towers over the houses with a reach nothing short of spectacular. The trunk, muscular and sturdy, mediates between sky and earth, while beneath the soil? A downward fractalling mirror of the canopy, unseen and necessary.

A story I’m submitting to literary magazines describes it. My son featured it in a third grade project.

My neighbors steward the being with utmost care: cables strung for support, twice annual feedings.

Can you imagine all that this beech has witnessed? The household secrets, the stirring of war and war again, the native people who may have honored it and perhaps also drank at the spring which once (supposedly) offered cool respite nearby. People with pox, barn fires (our house and its charred beams), orphans and the enslaved, tavern owners and farmers (the Bartletts at the corner).

The Jacksons who built the house in the 1700’s witnessed the early, young days of the tree’s life. Maybe it was the tree that inspired one owner to bequeath the house to an illegitimate daughter. Such things were not done!

Ghosts have been noted. A smithy and a soldier hanging in a closet. Not here but next door.

This little untitled poem by me mentions the tree.

She flipped the french toast,
vanilla fumed, and twisted to
a morning made of thread
and diary, made of weeds along the
road — dandelion and chickweed —
and a sun that glared
hot mystery
through the copper beech.

This time of year leafery,
cotillion, cockswaddle, and
steak. We could be made
of spores and engineered
lumber, but find ache
and patchwork inside instead.

How his back moves
down the road. She, off
with the dog down another.
Was there no plan to map
the distances, to cloud
handshakes and rollovers
with sleep or with taking
out the trash?

And how about Yellow?
Primroses flat, then yarrow, regal.
Soon the pansies made of
sugar and sunlight bought by
the flat will land while the dog pulls
away, scents of cow dung
and denim rot irresistible.

She left the dowels at the store.
The quilt unhung for another
week. Made of forgetfulness,
inclined toward suspense, turning away
not gathering up, and a scold
or two.

If only the oceans lingered
near the driveway, instead
of maple tree detritus
and scum bubbles of tar.

Meanwhile, an unintended consequence of a rheumatologist’s advice last week to “be active like you were ten years ago,” led to bravado in the garden and a back with more pain than I’ve ever experienced. Chiropractor at three. PT beginning within the week. K even stayed home today because yesterday I could barely get up the stairs or into bed. I’m much better now.

In other news: it looks like I have enough people for my first writing class. I’m so excited!

What do you think of my name: “Page by Page?” It’s a little bit like Annie Lamont’s “Bird by Bird,” but not critically enough to foreclose my usage.



14 thoughts on “Sentinel trees

  1. Liz A

    I’m not usually a fiction fan, but The Overstory reads more like narrative non-fiction than a novel. I serendipitously read the latest Barry Lopez book, Horizon, right afterward … a recommended pairing.

    And I do like “Page by Page” … wish I could be a part of it!

    1. deemallon

      Wish you could be part of it, too! Maybe eventually, I learn how to use ZOOM and do an online group.

      I gather that the book is unusual. Not quite far enough in to comment. But it’s the same reason I adored “Lincoln in the Bardo.” It really didn’t quite fit the genre, fiction, in ways both brilliant and provocative.

      1. Mo Crow

        loved Lincoln in the Bardo the first time I read it, a fabulous book intrugueing and so different but when I picked it up again it was all a bit too clever by half on the second reading…

  2. ravenandsparrow

    “The Overstory” sounds like required reading. Your comparison with “Lincoln in the Bardo” is compelling because I, too, thought it was highly original and thought-provoking.

    Page by Page is a great name for your class….I’m with Liz, I want to come too.

  3. RainSluice

    Yes, me too, I like “page by page”. Excited for you and those who get to partake in your class. Zoom is very easy. But human to human is so important too.
    We just acquired The Overstory the other day b/c my 93 year old mother-in-law finally handed it down ( we gave it her for xmas and have wondering when she’d hand it back 🙂
    Now, I get it after her son reads it… sigh! I guess I can wait.
    Love your poem and everything about that copper beech tree.

    1. deemallon

      I’ve heard soon is easy I just have never used it. Class was full now isn’t but keeping my fingers crossed.

  4. Jenny M

    Thank you for pointing out this book, I will place an order with our local library. To be able to see that amazing Cooper Beech each day is a gift… good to hear that it is being so well cared for. The stories it could tell!

  5. Nancy

    A magnificent tree indeed! I sure wish I could come write with you. Makes me a bit sad that you are far and I am a worker. Yet there are book title offerings, so I will hold onto that. Thanks. And there is not one thing I can do now that I could do 10 years ago! jus’ sayin’! Glad you back is feeling better.


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