Carpenter's Woods. February, 2021.
When my fears turn to fevers or dread
becomes the stuff of suffocation, I retreat
to Carpenter’s Woods.
I walk leaf-strewn trails,
carved amid the schist and shale
deposited eons ago.
I listen for the songs of migrating birds
and watch for their skittering companions
in the undergrowth, mice and squirrels,
at times a fox.
But it is the trees that invite me into their world.
They allow me to share their seasonal shifts,
and among them, I calibrate myself again
to nature’s rhythms.
As children we learned the algebra of
mutual interdependence, signs and symbols
capturing this miracle of sunlight and chlorophyll.
The greater lesson was not lost on us.
When we breathe, it is the gift of the trees.
The fledgling scientists among us appreciated
the rigor of the chemical exchange.
The budding ecologists pledged to honor
the reciprocities of all living things.
But it was the poets who would learn
to parse the fragility of the equation and
its susceptibility to tragic imbalances,
unveiling these as the source of
so much sorrow. Was I among them?
A leaf trembles in a faint breeze,
one of its final gifts perhaps the breath
I take as I pass by.
It clings to its stalk, as its desiccation is
not yet so complete that a mere sigh
could tumble it to the forest floor.
On this Autumn day in the woods,
the leaves are all in a tenuous state,
these precarious semaphores reminding
me that I, like them, am bound for
my own predestined release.
To what do I cling? Neither stalk nor stem
sustains this fragile and wildly improbable life,
suspended as it is, not in space, but between
two points in time.
Beneath the leaves on the forest floor,
and beneath the soil, a vast fungal chorus
Chemical and electrical, these songs of wisdom,
warnings and succor reach every tree
within its embrace, traveling from root to branch
and ending at the tips of their leaves.
The leaves call back to the underground chorus
and so the conversation ensues amid the trees,
for kith and kin alike, but not for those of my kind.
I cannot tune my senses to join them.
The trees elicit another kind of understanding,
and I am left to imagine what was imparted
to these leaves as they fell to their last.
The empty branches will bud and leaf again.
The trees will awaken and regenerate
their green extravagance.
And the yearly return of Spring will assuage
our deepest fears, as time’s linear arrow
will bend once more to a circular trajectory.
The end becomes the beginning and we rejoice.
It is the forest at its most profligate. But what of
the single leaf, having dropped to the forest floor,
trapped still in its particularity?
Does the recurring cycle compensate for its return
to dust? And what of me? Am I leaf or tree?
That which I know to be me is but a small part
of all that is me. Wherever I am, I become what
I find there, this body that walks these woods,
host and interloper, this collection of atoms and light,
so like the trees, but also this residue of promise
and memory, so like the leaves.
I go to Carpenter’s Woods and the trees invite me
into their world. I become the whispered descent
of the falling leaves, and the silences in between.
I become the sorrow of their decay and
the glory of their return. In these woods,
the trees invite me into their world.
Gratefully, I enter.