I became friends with a tree this weekend.
Campbell Folk School is a very community-centered place, so I arrived fully expecting to make new friends. I met many fine people from all walks of life and from all over the country. I did not expect the closest of those friends to be the tree outside our Orchard House writing room. I spent a fair amount of my weekend admiring that tree and writing underneath its branches.
Throughout the three day workshop, our instructor admonished us to be specific. Don’t say tree. Say white pine or birch or cedar. The work of revision is always moving toward greater specificity. Not just any tree. This tree. Specific.
The problem was we had no idea what kind of tree my friend was. We didn’t know how to name it. One of the workshop participants teaches biology. She used a tree taxonomy guide to move through the criteria toward a name. Deciduous. Broad. Flat. Asymmetrical. Ragged edges. My biology teacher friend suggested our new friend might be an elm. This made sense. My tree friend was both incredibly familiar (an exemplar of treeness) and otherwordly. It is possible that I had never before seen a fully grown elm. Most elms in my part of the country were killed off by Dutch Elm disease before I was born.
“This Tree. Specific.” is the poem I wrote about my new friend. I was able to read this piece at Sunday Morning Song. Reading this poem on that last morning felt like an appropriate offering to show gratitude to my classmates, to our instructor, to the Folk School and, most of all, to my friend the tree.
“This Tree. Specific.”
We are friends now, you and I. I sit
beneath your branches, waiting to know your name.
Don’t bother me with binomial nomenclature. It is your stature I most admire,
and the welcoming way you spread your branches to embrace new friends.
And your tremendous, unwavering patience as you press careful roots into dirt.
Ever mindful of the bustling, burrowing communities teeming below.
So many questions you might answer.
Did you know John Campbell? Did he sit here where I do listening for your secrets?
Can you teach me to make a meal of sunlight and rain?
Never mind. I’m pestering you now. I do that to my friends.
It is enough for now to sit beneath your branches, to appreciate the way you exert yourself in the world. Patient. Dignified.
I do not need to know your name. You are this tree. Specific. Friendly. My friend.