Tag Archives: copper beech

The White Underwing

I happed upon this image just before a writing session. Here’s most of what I wrote.

Up, anxious, sitting on the pot. Above the bathroom curtain’s ruffle, I can see a section of the night sky. A wedge of moon travels above Linshaw’s roof and into the netted shadows of their massive copper beech.

That tree, part sentinel, part cautionary tale, is hundreds of years old. It was a sapling during the small pox epidemic of the late 1700’s. It grabbed sky in one direction and earth in the other when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. Horses and a stream wandered nearby at one time.

The beech was bigger yet at the Emancipation Proclamation. By the time of the Spanish flu perhaps the twin trunks had established themselves.

The white planked house is old too, but not nearly as old as the tree. I like to think that Abraham Jackson sited the foundation with due regard for the tree, a tree which was still in its youth but already punctuating his property with its mighty grace at the time of building.

The moon in her delicate variety is older yet, so old that a different scale of time is required. The coal-to-diamond scale. The asteroid-encounter scale.

All I can think about during my brief viewing of the night sky is how insular I’ve become. A life apart from the wonder of puddles and their up-side-down worlds. Apart from trout and hummingbirds. Apart from the cleansing sweep of cold night air in the lungs.

Oh I go outside, but my walks with the dog are more like mail delivery than adventure. Making the rounds. A chance to take stock of all the closed blinds and wonder why so few structures ever show any signs of life.

When I lived on the other side of the state in the Berkshires, all I had to do was raise my head off the pillow and gaze out my eastern window to be transported. Sheep’s Heaven Mountain, a name whispering: time passes, time passes. Not that long ago the wooded hill was bare and dotted with sheep.

Here the horizon is poked with roofs. One neighbor painted their house a bright yellow this year and at first I wondered at their choice. Today I welcome its yolky warmth in all the grey.

All the grey can dull the senses. Maybe that’s why the news of a snowy owl in Washington, D.C. captivated me this morning. She’d made her way south from her usual haunts. She could be yet another signal of the drastic climate change we’re all so busily — in one way or another — trying to ignore.

But when I spy her fluffed up against the cold atop a statue of Themis, a figure representing freedom and justice, I like to think she stands for something else. That she augurs change. I like to think that when she lifts her wings and reveals their white undersides, we are meant to notice and in noticing, act.

I don’t believe the arc of the moral universe necessarily bends toward justice. There are too many ways we can fail. But this bird perched on the head of a goddess carrying the sword of justice lets me think we have a chance. A chance to make things right. A chance to live up to our promise and to atone for our sins. Not because I say so, but because a solitary owl, mysterious and commanding, has told me so.

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.