Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tethered To the Soil by Their Drinking Veins

There was a time when we worshipped trees.

I’m not talking about some pious reverence, some devout bending of the knee, I am talking of recognizing the forest’s role in our lives, in the natural play of our days. The wooded glen standing in the mist, its outline chattering with mad birds, it is the lung of existence. We take in the air scented by its limb and leaf, filtered by its effervescent rustling display.
     We know all too well that it is the tree, the big plant, the weed gargantuan that cleans our air, that absorbs the soot and the smoke, the oil and the mercurial rain. They are the thirsty totem of the world’s degenerating scalp, the ringed straws reaching to the heavens, the wooden rocket ships tethered to soil by thirsting veins.

The tree has two heads, one at each end of its existence, a match for any Doolittle. One is ravished by the wind, showing the sun its thousand forked tongues, the other buried in silt, chasing moisture as it races ever downward, losing itself in every direction. It speaks with both, sucking in the mysteries the Earth leaves behind, as it struggles to survive the vermin running its troubled hide.

How mighty are the trees that still scrape at our skies? Are they truly the lords of the vegetative nation, or is their size deceptive? Are they rather tumors in a field of tulips, the cancerous growths of a host losing its hair, tickets to Disneyland for those willing to believe?

We transform them with a deafening rapidity, turning natural tower to plank and bow, to bat and beam, chopstick and toothpick, rocking chair and oar. We harness their blood, the sweet syrup of their hardened skin, we mutilate and set fire to their limbs to warm our homes, we decapitate them when they peer through our lines of communication, when they dare intervene in the conversation of civilization’s giants, T-Mobile, Verizon, Comcast, the humming sentinels leaving headless cripples in their wake, standing like H.G Well’s Martians on metal legs.

No matter what the undergraduate philosopher might tell you, every falling tree makes a sound, for sound exists without an ear, just as signals exist without a radio, Chuck Berry without an audience. The tree felled by lightning, its brittle trunk devoured by beetle, visited by invisible blight, bursting great galls in frenzied smatterings, it passes through the nightly news, lining Tom Brokaw’s golden throat, the cellular chat, the murmur of a planet’s misbehaving child, it cuts right through it, on its way to the cradle from which it has sprung, never leaving the care of the nursery, the warm milk of a replenishing lap of birth and death, of bud and decay, the glory of a swelling mushroom building up from the rotting of the composting wood.

The tree strikes a balance between terra and strata, between gravity’s bed and its gulf of absence, the vast arena through which the seed drops, twirling in life’s spinning design, borne by whispered breeze and the gust of a hurried beast, riding a shield of quills to neighboring pastures, foreign groves and burgeoning orchards. The tree is a thermometer, wilting in the heat, an icy pillar in the cold. It is a needle, searching an entrance to the planet’s vascular parade, Sid scratching at Nancy’s flaccid white arm.

The tree welcomes calamity from above, just as it witnesses calamity below.

From the tree we hang and climb, lynch and love. We leave our marks across its weathered suit of armor, carving our hearts to its breastplate – before toppling it to the ground to warm our toes.