Our only boundaries were the warnings
of an empty gas light and the approach
of police lights in the later nights,
but all we could talk about
was how trapped we felt,
how our free time waned
in parking lots and hidden groves.
We leapt to our escapes—
blown glass and the homeless man
with his mattress behind the Giant
who’d buy us booze for an extra buck;
the blaring riffs of an Incubus tune,
or the hum of a television set
that had nothing new to say.
So summer crept on,
and where did the time go?
We shed our skin, our disregard
for speed limits and haircuts,
moved on to indie rock and poetry,
and let’s face it—all that glory is gone.
It’s hard not to look back on it,
think of the first time you got high
behind the shopping center
and not want to say “I’m sorry,”
or feel like you’ve missed a chance.
Our only boundaries were the warnings
I crash into the cradle of my bed,
let my sails sag and anchor fall to the sea,
chest heave to the rhythm of your blink
behind my eyelids. I crane my neck back
and think of you, imagine my nails
tracing the comma of your navel
as your breath comes out in ellipses.
I feel your legs clasped ‘round me,
two parentheses around “etc.”
It is 1999. I am ten years old, and it is holiday time. I live in Maine. It’s beautiful in the winter, snowy and cold and the ocean—the ocean! It gets all misty and has what is called ice fog, a fog that only hangs over the water in the early morning from the extremely cold temperatures. It’s almost a surreal scene.
In the midst of all of this, my grandfather is dying.
I am ten years old, and the days get shorter and the nights get longer and they move him from our house, where he and my grandmother have been staying for the last year, to a hospice up the road. I make him a blanket—blanket being an old sheet that I stitch my name and ribbons onto, because I am only ten and love to sew but don’t really know how to do it all that well. I bring it to him one day, and my mom puts it on his bed. I ask my grandma, “Do you think Grandpa will be home by Christmas?” She replies, “I hope so.”
December 13th comes, and Christmas is nearing. We are making calendars with the theme of Egypt at school as Christmas presents for our parents. I go to sleep and am woken up by my mother coming into my room, gently waking me, telling me to get dressed. We have to go pick my grandmother up at the hospice, help her, bring her home. It is late, and dark, and cold, and we both cry in the car on the way.
When we get there, my mother goes to the room, but I don’t. I sit in the lounge and the nurses bring me graham crackers and hot cocoa. I watch old “I Love Lucy” reruns.
The three of us go home, and my mother calls my father, who is away on a business trip. I go upstairs and lie on my floor reading an old issue of Teen Magazine. It is four a.m. “Get some sleep,” my mother tells me. It is up to me whether or not I go to school tomorrow, and I love school. I worry, believing I should stay home with them. She tells me that it’s okay to go.
I sit with a sad look on my face in class the next day as we’re finishing our Egypt calendars. One of the girls asks me what’s wrong. “Did your grandpa die?” she asks me. “You’re a good guesser,” I say bitterly and run out of the room. I sit in the hallway for a little while, trying to process everything. There is a funeral, and we all drive down to Cape Cod, to the military cemetery where my grandfather chose to be buried. In the car I write a Eulogy of sorts and ask my mom if I can recite it. She asks me to say it, and I do, and she almost cries. She says I can recite it. I don’t write it down, and years and years from then on I don’t remember what it said, and I wished I did. But I remember it was nice.
Christmas still comes, and I am still excited, in that way that ten-year olds are. I am particularly happy about my Mulder and Scully “X-Files” action figures that I get under the tree. I give my grandmother a potholder, and she starts to cry. I ask my mother what’s wrong, and she tells me to go hug her. I happily oblige, and tell her not to cry, that it’s okay.
The morning turns into the afternoon, and I still am happily playing with my action figures, which is that year’s equivalent of playing with the box instead of the toy—among other things, I also get a pinball machine. Right now, however, I’d be content playing with my action figures all afternoon.
We’re supposed to go out for Christmas dinner at a local restaurant and eat all the yummy, wonderful things that come with the holiday season and come home after, full and tired. But there is a change. We’re going to get Chinese food. My father makes a comment about “A Christmas Story,” and I, having never seen it, don’t know what he means except in the they-play-that-on-T.V.-for-24-hours-every-year way. That movie and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I hate that movie—too sad. My mother loves it, and it would take me until I was much older to understand why. Even so, it’s still too sad.
My father drives into town to get the Chinese food, and after we all eat our fill my parents decide to take a walk. We live on a rural, snowy road across from the ocean. It is cold, and we bundle up in layers and set out down the long driveway.
It is my parents, my grandmother, my aunt, and I. It is quiet and beautiful and everything is white. We walk up the road, around the corner, and all the way to the end.
My mother and aunt start to do the “Monkees” walk, the walk from the T.V. show about the band of the same name. It’s an arms-looped walk in time with each other, and it’s funny, and we laugh.
Rounding the corner, we arrive at the top of the road. You can see all the way down it, out to the highway and the ocean, which is across the street. The sun is setting, and it casts a warm glow onto everything. It reflects on the water, and it’s beautiful.
My grandfather had a whole set of phrases that he used on a regular basis. Some of them were fill-in phrases that I took great joy in completing—my favorite always was, On the other hand….she wore a glove. He told my mother to, “Keep her powder dry.” And he didn’t like the word “goodbye.” He always preferred, “See you later.” And it really is better, because everywhere I go I still see a bit of him, and there will always be things that will always remind me of him. It is always a, “See you later.”
We head back down the road and into the house, where we all relax and warm up after the walk. Night falls, and I remember what my mother said the night we drove to pick up my grandmother. There’s a new star in the sky, she said. A new angel.
It is never a goodbye. It is always a see you later.
By Allison Novak ‘10
Mockhorn Island is an Atlantic coastal barrier island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. It is visible during low tide; however, much of the island is under water when the tide is high. The tidal changes make it tricky to take a motorized boat out to Mockhorn because it requires timing the trip with the tide or risking becoming stranded on a mud flat. The major vegetation is saltmarsh cordgrass called Spartina patens. On the land that remains above water, the vegetation changes to loblolly pine and green brier. Mockhorn Island has tons of intertidal creatures that inhabit the island. The fiddler crab attracts immediate attention. These crabs hide at the top of the partially submerged grass, and people can get a glimpse of a bizarre, yet strangely familiar, world.
Standing on Mockhorn Island, I felt worlds away from civilization. There was no cultural development within sight. Mockhorn Island felt very primitive and isolated. As I walked around the island, mud splashed my arms, legs, and clothes. I heard my feet squish as I trekked across the mucky marshland. I heard and felt the howl of the strong wind blowing over the island. The mud soaked through my water shoes. I lifted my feet one at a time and I heard a sort of sucking noise as I pried my feet free. I continued to explore the island and reached the point where the vegetation changed. Here, the land was above water, yet still wet.
Suddenly my vision filled with small, semi-terrestrial fiddler crabs with colorful pincers. Looking ahead I could see blobs of white and orange moving on the ground. As I approached these creatures, they retreated quickly into their burrows. I realized that they must be highly sensitive to my movements, which caused their crab-senses to tingle, alerting them to potential danger. They slid alongside each other, then turned and swerved; it was a spectacular display. The fiddler crabs’ movement reminded me of an endless, vital dance. I felt like a giant crushing the small crabs as I walked. I tried to tip-toe, but I still felt the crabs crunching beneath my feet. The only thought running through my head was “Do not step on them!” I held my breath and felt horrible knowing that I was trampling and killing these poor creatures. If I was not stepping on them, then I was stepping on their burrows and destroying their homes.
I decided to stop and bend down to get a closer look at some of crabs before they disappeared from my sight. The fiddler crabs varied in color, from tan to brown with white and orange pincers. After a couple of failed attempts to catch one, I was successful. I picked up a male crab. A male crab has one claw that is enlarged, either right or left. A female’s claws are both small. The male’s enlarged pincer look as large and as heavy as the rest of the crab’s body. I speculated that the pincher was used to hunt or crush food; however, I was informed that it is actually used to attract females and to intimidate rival males. As I looked carefully, I saw how the fiddler crab got its name. The large claw looked a bit like a fiddle, and the way the crab waved its pincer around has an unique style and rhythm that resembles a musician playing his fiddle.
After closer inspection, I saw that the shell of the fiddler crab was square with rounded rear edges. Attached to the shell are four pairs of walking legs. The eyes of a fiddler crab are mounted on long stalks which give the crab the ability to observe a panoramic view of the marshland. The crab’s stilt eyes pop out as if the crab is always observing his surroundings and assessing his next move.
The next thing I knew, I felt a sharp but quick pain in my hand as the crab pinched me. I dropped him on the ground like a hot potato and watched him scurry back into his burrow. After this, I learned my lesson and I left the crabs in peace.
After this encounter with these fiddler crabs, I decided to do some research on them. I found two fascinating videos on YouTube. One showed the way male crabs attract a female crab’s attention. It is really entertaining sight to see! First, the male digs a burrow, where he tries to lure females crabs into in order to reproduce. He stands next to his burrow while females walk past. He waves his major claw to attract the female’s attention. If a female is interested, she stares at the male for a short period of time. The male then runs toward the female and then back to his burrow, repeating this motion several times until the female follows him into the burrow.
The other video showed the way fiddler crabs fight each other. The male fiddler crab waves his claw in order to challenge other males to fight. However, this fighting did not look dangerous. It seemed like more of a show than a fight. It resembled an arm wrestling contest where both arm-wrestlers get to demonstrate their strength to the opposite gender without actually risking any serious danger.
Watching these crabs, I realized how much their lives resemble ours. They battle against the elements, trying their best to survive and live well as the tide rushes forward. The crabs go around repeating the same motions endlessly, over and over, trying to complete their necessary tasks. In a way, the fiddler crab’s activities are similar to our activities, the way people live their lives. We go through the motions to complete our daily routines. It does not matter if people move through society or if crabs scuttle along the marshland; both are living their lives as they believe they should. Like human beings, crabs too change their signal when trying to grab attention. Male fiddler crabs have a similar fashion to humans when trying to pick up females. They both use macho moves to impress the females. For those that bother to look for and observe them, fiddler crabs will reward you with their amusing behavior: frantically feeding, squabbling and courting all at the same time.
By Liz Shandor ‘11
Web-Only: Photo’s from Kathleen Bromelow, abroad in England
You’ve fallen under.
Water slick as lies covers you;
I see your beak—your nose,
poor genetics? It stabs out,
Suddenly, you are flailing,
beady brown-black eyes beseech God.
You have no chance. Remember Judas?
He forsakes people like you.
Lazarus smirks—¬¬a devil’s smile, you think,
his eyes watching you slip in, Moses
reminds you. He pulls Lazarus away.
If they do not believe.
Your room is a bamboo forest—
the fan spins lazy circles.
I know how impossibly imperfect I am.
If that eye be unfaithful—pluck it out.
Your eyes—sharp and black like a raven’s—remain intact.
She grips the bed—
this neighbor, this mother, this nameless woman.
They say ‘Love Thy Neighbor,’
but she is not mine, she is not mine, she is nameless.
My brother—four and small—
is awake, uneasy in the next room.
Her body, her daughter, her dogs
get more attention.
You, who broke all your promises,
who shattered my nights with fury,
who live in luxury,
who read Conversations with God,
who lie, languish, and luck,
you—who have gone against
me so that hatred and betrayal
are all I have left—
You ask me for forgiveness?
To move on, start afresh.
you have pushed too far.
I cannot forgive.
I cannot love you.
Perhaps, if I could learn
from my Father,
I could forgive you.
But that leap stretches before me,
and I am not ready.
By Olivia Williams ‘12
She puts on a blank white apron
before putting on a smile,
and turns to face the people beyond the counter.
She processes each of us efficiently:
give a friendly greeting,
trade an order for cash,
But when I reach across the cold, hard marble
to hand her some bills,
I see a face behind the smile.
Two circles shadow her eyes
and a line furrows her brow.
And for a moment I can’t help but wonder,
what secrets her apron hides.
Behind me, I can hear the people
clicking away at Blackberries
and murmuring into phones.
Each one locked into a schedule
and eager to be gone.
So I give a friendly greeting,
trade cash for an order,
and move on.
I can’t bring myself to ask.
About the life she hides.
Instead I tell myself
as I walk out the door,
that she never would have answered,
encased in her blank white apron.
We laugh at the man in a tattered black suit,
who sits by the crosswalk at night,
who plays the harmonica and sings little songs
and takes loose change, if we’ve got it.
He talks, if we stop and listen
about the weather and the town’s news,
but his accent’s so thick, he shouldn’t bother,
we can’t understand him.
We toss him some coins whenever we go by
and then laugh as we round the bend.
Not to be mean or mocking,
we do it simply to laugh,
and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But I could laugh a lot easier,
if I just knew where he went at night.
Once upon a time, in the faraway land called Neutrova, there was a princess who went by the name Charlie. This princess was unlike any other princess in neighboring lands in many ways. Instead of wearing the latest fashions and finest crown jewels, she wore normal, everyday clothes, which usually included pants. Though these facts alone made Charlie a peculiar princess, there was one other action that made her different. She constantly questioned things. On her walks around the kingdom, people heard her ask “why?” after nearly every statement. The people of Neutrova did not know what to think about the princess. The rumors and gossip in the small kingdom centered on how strange she was. And the market was a perfect place to discuss the strange princess.
“I hear Charlie drove off another etiquette teacher,” the baker stated while slicing loaves of bread, “due to her refusal to leave the dungeon.”
“Honest to God, that dungeon!” the florist chimed in. “No self-respecting princess would willingly spend her time in such a dark and dank place. Maybe she is not the brightest star in the constellation,” she theorized, “and that is why she is always questioning things; she just doesn’t understand.”
“Well I hear that no prince from any kingdom will come within a 50 mile radius of our kingdom, because they cannot be seen with a princess who clearly does not take pride in the way she presents herself,” the butcher commented while tending to his latest cut of beef.
And so the comments continued, day in and day out, though some were truer than others. Charlie was impervious to the comments about her, so she would continue to spend her free hours in the dungeon doing what made her most happy.
The King and Queen were at a loss. They had no idea how to handle a daughter who clearly did not act like a princess. They brought in etiquette coaches, and were constantly attempting to entice princes from other kingdoms to come and visit Neutrova. They were so concerned with their daughter and the way she was perceived, that the King and Queen were unaware of an evil sorceress who had taken up residence in the kingdom. By the time they realized she was in Neutrova, she had already begun to spread disease throughout the realm. The sickness was so widespread that the royal couple had no choice but to send for help from the nearby rival kingdom of Gendasia.
The king of Gendasia received the pleas for help from Neutrova, and quickly came up with a plan that would benefit him. He sent his son, Prince Rory. Now Rory, like Charlie, did not fit the cookie-cutter mold of what other princes were like. Instead of spending his time slaying trolls and dragons, he held and led support groups of those victimized by magical creatures. He was not concerned with wooing a princess, or really anyone, much to the chagrin of his father. He spent his free time in the fields writing about the beauty of nature. The king was very pleased with himself; he knew that by sending Rory, he was guaranteeing that the Kingdom of Neutrova would fall and he, as King of Gendasia, would be there to pick up the pieces.
While Rory in Gendasia was preparing, unwillingly, for his mission to fight the evil sorceress, Charlie was all but forgotten within her own kingdom. Since the blight brought on by the sorceress had begun, she had not left the dungeon.
Once suited up, Rory’s shook so badly that the clanking of his armor could be heard a mile away. By the time he reached the sorceress, he was so white that the green tinge in his cheeks was particularly noticeable. The sorceress was delighted at such an easy target. There was no way this Prince could stop her.
Rory dismounted the horse and raised his sword, which wavered due to Rory’s fear and overall lack of strength. He then went on to say shakily “Ee—evil sorceress you sh—shall leave Neutrova at once, or be ff-orced to deal with mm—me.”
The sorceress smiled, and then cried “Boo!” Rory promptly fainted on the spot.
Word quickly reached the King and Queen of Neutrova of the failed conquest to kill the sorceress. They were beside themselves. What would they do? How will the Kingdom survive? How long until they fell to the illness? They were so busy wallowing that they did not notice Charlie exit the dungeon and the castle with an extremely large bag.
On the other side of the Kingdom, the sorceress was quite happy with herself: she had a prince as prisoner and, in a few days, the sickness would take the people of Neutrova. While she was busy enjoying the fruits of her labor, there was a knock on the door of her cottage. When she opened it, she saw a young woman who was nothing special to look at; she was wearing clothing that looked as though it belonged to a man, and she appeared as though she hadn’t slept in weeks. The sorceress also noticed that this woman had no wedding ring, and no male companionship whatsoever. Through all of her observations, though, she failed to notice the extremely large bag by the woman’s feet.
The young woman stuck out her hand and spoke, “Hi, I’m Charlie the princess of Neutrova. I would really appreciate it if you would leave and take the blight and disease that you have brought with you.”
There have been very few times that the sorceress had been shocked, but this was definitely one of those moments. She had heard the rumors about the princess, how she wasn’t terribly bright and that the way she dressed left something to be desired. But meeting Charlie and seeing it first hand was really something else. The sorceress quickly changed her shocked expression into a smile, “Charlie, today is your lucky day. I’ve already captured a person of royalty so I will give you a free pass and let you leave. We’ll just pretend that this encounter never happened.”
Charlie quickly returned the smile and, as she was doing so, she reached into the bag beside her feet and pulled out a vial containing a blue liquid. “I really wish you had just honored my request,” Charlie said. Before the sorceress could react Charlie had thrown the vial at her, causing the sorceress to disappear in a bright flash of light.
The princess promptly went into the cottage to free Rory, who was extremely astonished. “What just happened?” he asked.
“Oh it was just a little vanquishing potion that I made in my lab in the dungeon of the castle,” Charlie replied. She dug into her bag again and handed Rory a vial. “Here take this; it is medicine so you won’t catch the disease that the sorceress let loose in Neutrova. I have enough here for the kingdom, so soon everyone should be back in good health.”
As soon as he was able to get his bearings, Charlie and Rory set off back to castle, along the way dispensing medicine, to tell Charlie’s parents that sorceress was gone. Upon their arrival, Charlie’s parents were overjoyed to see their daughter. They thought she had been kidnapped by the sorceress. They also thanked Rory for saving their daughter, but Rory soon set them straight. He told them how Charlie had saved him and the kingdom, and how Charlie had spent so much time in the dungeon. He explained that she constantly questioned things because she was a scientist.
Her parents were in shock – a princess a scientist? Who had ever heard of such a thing? But they told Charlie it was okay because obviously she had found a man who could accept her for who she was. Rory and Charlie promptly disagreed; they most definitely were not in love. Rory also had no desire to rule over his own kingdom of Gendasia, and Charlie did not want to lose her power to rule Neutrova.
A solution was soon drawn up. Rory would relinquish his rights to his kingdom and Charlie would become ruler of both Neutrova and Gendasia. This left Rory free to roam the country and start a series of support groups across the land for those who had been victimized by magical creatures.
Charlie became one of the greatest rulers of all time. she spread the word of science to the far reaches of the kingdom, and girls and boys alike looked up to her. The gossip and the rumors about her died down, and anything that was said about her was in a reverent tone. No longer did anyone care about how she acted or dressed. They realized that Charlie was her own kind of princess.
by Samantha DeCarlo ‘10
Hello. It’s getting to be that time of year. You know, that time of year thou mayst in me behold. The one with the yellow leaves (or none at all) that do hang upon those boughs shaking against the cold…or something like that. Anyway, as a person (or bear) who actually enjoys the colder months, I figured I’d spread some of my joy. That is, I want to share a small handful of sweet jams that I’ve come to associate with the chillier seasons. So, here goes nothing.
1. “My Turn,” Basement Jaxx featuring Lightspeed Champion, Scars
I’ve only recently become acquainted with this song, but I already love it to death. The combination of singer-guitarist Devonte “Lightspeed Champion” Hynes’ sparse (but poignant) acoustic riffs, and UK house duo Basement Jaxx’s driving rhythms, results in a sound that’s strangely autumnal…in the sense that it places us comfortably between the brisk melancholy of Hynes’ melodies and the warm swirl of thumps, synthesizers and samples that characterize Basement Jaxx’s production. Imagine walking through one of those gray landscapes from a Thomas Hardy novel and encountering a wandering band of disco-dancing robot teddy bears whose fur changes colors like that horse in The Wizard of Oz. That’s the best comparison I can imagine…
2. “Space Travel Is Boring,” Sun Kil Moon, Tiny Cities
This pretty little number is just one of the many gems that comprise Tiny Cities, which consists of eleven acoustic Modest Mouse “covers” arranged by singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek (formerly of Red House Painters, who also kick major musical posterior). I use the term “covers” reluctantly because Kozelek obviously did not intend to create an album that simply sounded like someone playing an acoustic guitar and trying to imitate Isaac Brock. Rather, he chose to adapt these songs into his straightforward, vocally-driven style. I feel as if “Space Travel Is Boring” serves as an excellent example of Kozelek’s ability to transform Modest Mouse’s rhythmically-complex, often abrasive compositions, into unassumingly beautiful ballads that bring the appeal of Brock’s lyrics to the fore. There’s something about this track’s lyrical content (i.e., the story of a lone female astronaut’s daily life) that seems particularly appropriate to a stretch of time characterized by quietude and overcast skies. Heck, this whole album is perfect for this time of year. Just listen to the whole thing while you’re at it.
3. “Workin’ On Leavin’ The Livin’,” Modest Mouse, Building Nothing Out of Something
Noticing a trend here? Okay, so two-thirds of my favorite “cold weather” songs are by Modest Mouse. You caught me. In any event, I find that this specific track represents the band’s “softer side” while maintaining their typical quirky edge. In terms of how it sounds, the song is fairly meager, driven primarily by Brock’s repeated crooning of, “In heaven, everything is fine…” (a fun tidbit for fans of Eraserhead) over an increasingly elaborate collage of reverb-soaking guitars that occasionally sounds like a couple of stray cats fighting over a half-eaten fish taco. Don’t ask me why a fish taco came to mind. Maybe it has something to do with how often I’ve listened to this song in the past twenty-four hours. My, my, my…how a body can space out.
When I was seven years old, my parents opened the Woodbine Christmas Tree Farm, composed of a seven-acre plot on the border of Carroll County, Maryland. As a child, I would play in the fields until I knew them in the way we know intimate memories. Summers included firefly hunts and hide-and-seek, autumn was chilly walks and bonfires, winter was – and is – the selling season.
The tree farm is more than a space occupied with a seasonal business, it is my home. Our house rests on a slight raise over the fields. The windows of my mother’s bedroom stare out at the spot where deer appear from the woods in the summer and thread their way through the evergreens, grey spots in the verdant growth. Year-round we have the green fields to tread and tend and admire.
There is more than a season to Christmas trees and the annual ritual of “choose and cut” carried out each December. The year is filled with marks of tree care, from spring shearing to summer mowing, traversing the fields in the John Deere, performing acrobatics around the saplings (and I have mown down more than my fair share). The summer and fall also offer opportunities for thinning the diseased trees or shaping the plump ones.
When we first opened, we grew two types of trees: the perennial favorite Douglas Fir and the less popular Scotch Pine. The pines soon developed a fungus from whence falling needles and rotting bark ensued. Now we must cut our own trees down in the autumn off-season when we see their needles drop, and we burn them in the back patch. The woodsmoke adds an appropriate scent to the air, when the whole scene is on fire with chlorophyll. While it is disappointing to burn a dying tree and the fungus has made the fields thin, our firs grow on, unaffected among newer spruce specimens, keeping the farm going.
Shearing is my father’s job, each tree shaped personally by means of a machete. It takes about two weeks on and off to do all the trees, my father out swinging for about two or three hours a day, before or after work. He wears construction yellow shin-guards, grooved with the evidence of wrong swings. I don’t know how he cuts them so nonchalantly. A few strokes and the gangly mass of off-shooting limbs is formed like a topiary into a teardrop.
A good tree has a straight trunk. Curves at the base or in the center will make the tree lopsided in the stand and cause an added grievance to holiday frustration. When the trees grow on an incline, we have to be careful, because that’s what causes the trunk curvature, but our fields inevitably incline towards the forest and we encounter a number of angle-cut stumps come January that have to be trimmed into the ground. The round disc of a trimmed stump is the best potpourri I know of, fresh beads of sap forming around the rings and clotting in the chill. I keep them in my room or put them around the house in terra-cotta dishes until it smells as if the sap runs in the very walls.
We used to have a tiny book on Christmas trees, complete with scientific names and diagrams, and I would hover over it every year committing to memory which tree to recommend for this or that specified desire. I know pines aren’t as sturdy as spruce and have a tendency to be too sappy, but their fragrance is more pervasive. Spruce are sturdy and prickly, good for heavy ornaments, and blue spruce have a fine silver tinge to them that one cannot help but marvel at in the brown of winter. Fir trees are flexible but strong, soft-needled, and my favorite tree, if I am permitted trade partiality.
When you buy your tree, regardless if it balled and burlapped, fresh cut or from a lot, do you know about the life of that five or six foot specimen? (Much less a larger one for the cathedral ceilings.) We can’t grow 12-foot trees in part because shearing and shaping becomes unwieldy, but also because discerning customers choose them long before they reach such heights.
We purchase our saplings from a commercial nursery in western Maryland. They arrive at the house in a big cardboard box with a green tree logo on the side, wrapped tightly together in moisture-retentive plastic and packed like sapling sardines. We separate them into individual pots, packing them with dark, rich soil. They are only about a hand’s length tall at this point and wispy, newly green. The pots sit outside for a few months, sometimes a year, before spring plants them in the thawed ground.
It takes about five years for an evergreen to root to the point where substantial growth begins. The five or six foot trees, the heights that are most popular, are about ten (depending on the species). The trees we sold the year I was ten had been planted the spring I was still wrapped in my mother’s womb. I had run through them, hid and camped and built forts on their perimeter. The trees we sell now were planted when I was ten. They stood to watch me through high school, watch me leave for college, watch as the apple tree came down and the cicadas arrived, as the old shed was toppled and the garage built. I’ll admit I think of them as sentient, sometimes.
After they are cut, they are dragged up to the car park, bailed in plastic netting, and secured onto truck or trunk or roof. It’s not exactly hard to say goodbye. The truth is we raise trees to cut them down, which I suppose is not what one wants to think about come holiday season. Sometimes it’s sad to think that the whole time we are enveloped in our chilly holiday cheer there is this dead tree between us, more like an end to life than a beginning.
But who is to blame? We plant, we raise, we cut, we mulch, we plant and on again. Our own tree goes through the mulcher every year, coming out releasing the last of its beautiful scent into the winter air as it gets spread around the property, in field or garden or flowerbed.
There’s a lingering guilt to the tree farm now that I’ve grown up to the fact that we raise trees, these wonderful sturdy symbols of vitality, only to cut them down. In those terms it seems a bit grotesque, no? The counterpoint, I suppose, is the tree in the window frosted with lights, or even the sweet-scented mulch spread in the fields, or the tiny saplings springing up from the cardboard box, or the community of customers and woodsmoke and pine.
I love tree farming. It is the hallmark of the season. We are not holiday-oriented as a rule, our only décor being candles and evergreen clippings. There is no fat Santa in the yard or 24/7 holiday radio, instead there is a mug of coffee and a green apron and the cold air outside on weekends. There is talk of the neighborhood or the season, where people are from, how long they have searched for a tree. I suppose this kind of immediate and open fellowship is what the holidays should be decorated with.
That, and a tree.
That, and a Tree: Growing Up on an Evergreen Farm by Allison Fischbach
When it comes to love, I don’t know why
poets can’t just say you and I.
Instead they always try to convey
that their love is like nature, in some artsy way.
She must be a daffodil, a dove, or a doe,
a rose, the sun, or a field full of snow.
But in all honesty I don’t suppose,
that anyone would aspire to be a rose.
For what does a flower do all day
but sit in a field or, at best, a bouquet?
It might look pretty, but who could adore
a woman that’s only good for decor.
The sun might be pretty, and it brightens my day.
But who wants a lover that at dusk goes away,
and faithlessly gives out her warming light
to everyone and anyone who passes in sight.
And besides, who could love a girl that sends
skin cancer to all of her friends.
Doves may be beautiful with their pure white wings,
but everyone lies about the way that they “sing.”
To compare that peeping to music is absurd.
And worst of all, if my love were really a bird,
I’d be forced to follow her with a scoop
to pick up her constantly falling feathers.
So if I need a poem for my sweet,
I won’t try for anything charming or neat.
‘Cause I know the only words she needs to hear:
“I’ll love you forever and ever, my dear.”
Whitman, I hardly know you,
I admit, but I write to you.
Would you have liked that?
you are like a mentor, a guide,
standing next to me on the riverbank
holding Charon’s lantern and pole,
pointing into the darkness with great excitement,
waiting for me to see the beauty
you’ve noticed for years.