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An Elegy for Trees

Some of you will wonder what took me so long, but in recent years I’ve developed a deep appreciation for trees.

I used to take trees for granted. But these days I know that sitting in their presence for a while will leave me refreshed and renewed. I wonder if trees photosynthesize the soul as well as sunlight?!

Part of what calls to me is the complexity and beauty of trees. As Annie Dillard wrote, if you want to understand how complex a tree is, try making a scale model of one! As for beauty, few sights can rival yellow leaves dancing in the wind against the backdrop of a “blue true dream of sky,” to quote e.e. cummings.

But most of all, I’m drawn to trees because of something W.S. Merwin says in this lovely poem — the way they slowly and quietly cycle through the seasons “as though nothing had happened” while our individual and collective lives whirl madly around them.

Contemplating a tree with more than a few years on it helps me regain perspective on the events of my life — the good stuff and the hard stuff — that I can too easily inflate beyond their true importance in the scheme of things.

Memo to self: Log more tree-time! (Pun intended…)

(W.S. Merwin received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2009, and was named the 17th U.S. Poet Laureate in 2010. He’s 89 and still writing beautifully, especially about the passage of time.)

Elegy for a Walnut Tree
by W.S. Merwin

Old friend now there is no one alive
who remembers when you were young
it was high summer when I first saw you
in the blaze of day most of my life ago
with the dry grass whispering in your shade
and already you had lived through wars …

(Excerpted from The Moon Before Morning. Read the full poem here.)

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