Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wind, trees

Returning home from a weekend away, we were greeted by a phone message from our next-door neighbor. One of the hemlock trees along our shared fence line had toppled over the weekend, falling on his fence and resting on the tree limbs above. It was a small hemlock that had succumbed to wooly adelgids (commonly called aphids) several years ago, and was very dead.

It wasn’t really much of a tree, more of a tall post that was rotten to the core, and I was able to move it off the fence and snap it off at the base just by rocking it back and forth. I noticed a few more hemlocks that the adelgids had killed, and our neighbor said that a lot of them had been sprayed when the adelgids were around a few years ago. Most of them looked pretty healthy, but a few had died and rotted. Looks like a bit of lumberjacking is in order.

While bugs may be the initial cause, it was the wind that finally did in this tree. It’s spring in Blacksburg, and one of the primary harbingers seems to be wind. Lots of it.

Last April 15th the wind blew particularly heavy all night, banging against the sides and windows of the hillside house we lived in then. It was still blowing strong the next morning, gusting up to 50 mph, battering me with flurries of snow . Walking up to the top of the hill behind our house I was startled to see that the old cherry tree had been blown over during the night. We had picked cherries from the lower branches the summer before, and while the trunk seemed somewhat decayed, it was still a shock to see it gone. It was a daily ritual to walk up the hill, emerge from the woods into the field, and see the sun coming up between the tall trunks in this cherry tree’s small copse.

Of course, that day grew darker in Blacksburg. By noon 32 people had been murdered at Virginia Tech, and all the images that came across the television screens showed police and students battered by wind and surrounded by flurries. A grim, surreal feel permeated the air. This couldn’t be real. Friends and family emailed and called asking if we were all right. The day went on, and the wind kept blowing. By late afternoon, just as I was beginning to leave Radford and head back home to Blacksburg, someone told me that the tree in front of the library had also blown down, bracketing the day with fallen trees like arboreal parentheses.

All of this brings Emily Dickinson to mind (that's her below on the left) . Here's Dickinson's poem #321, commonly known as "The Wind," written in 1862:

Of all the sounds despatched abroad,
There's not a charge to me
Like that old measure in the boughs,
That phraseless melody

The wind does, working like a hand
Whose fingers comb the sky,
Then quiver down, with tufts of tune
Permitted gods and me.

When winds go round and round in bands,
And thrum upon the door,
And birds take places overhead,
To bear them orchestra,

I crave him grace, of summer boughs,
If such an outcast be,
He never heard that fleshless chant
Rise solemn in the tree,

As if some caravan of sound
On deserts, in the sky,
Had broken rank,
Then knit, and passed
In seamless company.

The final note that slammed on the day the trees fell was that my aunt and mentor Eloise died. Her great love was books, and she spread that joy far and wide. She read two or three (or more) each week throughout her life, and distributed countless volumes to family, friends, and libraries. This is photo of her personal library:

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