In 1913 Alfred Joyce Kilmer wrote:
|I THINK that I shall never see|
|A poem lovely as a tree.|
|A tree whose hungry mouth is prest|
|Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;|
|A tree that looks at God all day,||5|
|And lifts her leafy arms to pray;|
|A tree that may in summer wear|
|A nest of robins in her hair;|
|Upon whose bosom snow has lain;|
|Who intimately lives with rain.||10|
|Poems are made by fools like me,|
|But only God can make a tree.|
I love trees. The taller the better, the more the better. For nearly 20 years I had a framed poster-sized photograph like the one above, only better. It went with me wherever I moved. (It belonged to me; no one else cared about it.) Everytime I passed by it, I dreamed of living there with the trees surrounding me. It would be quiet and I would be at peace. Sometimes I would just stop and look at it for a few minutes and sigh. I did not know where that photograph was taken, but I vowed that I would not die before getting there.
Then in December of 1997, Danny brought me to his home in the Santa Cruz mountains. The windows of his cabin looked out upon some redwoods surrounding it. One morning, as we drove on curvy Hwy. 9 down to the town of Santa Cruz, the sun shone through the forested trees above us and below us. We were not going fast – you can’t – and I turned my head to relish the view, when all of a sudden I realized I was in that photograph. Danny lived in my dream and I was going to live there, too.
I held his hand and he looked at my watery eyes. “This is where I was meant to be,” I told him. He grinned and squeezed my hand, then raised it to his lips. (He still does that all these years later – sighhh.)
I was born in Indiana and took all those towering oaks, maples, birches, willows, cottonwoods, fruit trees, and evergreens for granted. Then we moved to south Texas, and I realized how much I loved trees – real trees. Trees that gave shelter and shade. Trees that you could build a treehouse in. Trees that gave you delectable apples, peaches, and pears. Trees you could climb. (Okay, I’ll stop.) It took me five years to get out of there and move back to Indiana, then Massachusetts and California. Until in 1973 I found myself back in south Texas with two boys in tow. A few years later, after Merideth was born, I bought that forest poster and kept it in sight wherever we were.
So decades later, as I walked among the redwoods, I had to embrace one and my soul sighed. The majesty of those living monuments is overwhelming. You cannot help but be awed as you look up and up and up. When you see the breadth of one that has fallen, you are humbled. The caretakers of the forests let them stay where they lay as it is a natural process. It is a real trip to stand in one that has been hollowed by lightning.
In the late 1800s and early 20th century, lumber companies all but decimated these giants. BUT, joy of joy, more often than not they grew back in circles around the huge stumps. Most of the trees in the Santa Cruz mountains have reached their maximum height but are little more than a 100 years old. That is why they haven’t the breadth of the old-forest ones, but they will in another couple hundred years. John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt helped preserve the California redwoods, thank goodness. They grow nowhere else on earth. So, as much as some of you may dislike California, you really should venture out there to see the sequoias in the mountains above Fresno or the tallest ones of the northern coastal regions.
As for my poster…alas, faded and torn, it had to be thrown away before we moved back to Texas in 2005.