The Trees Inside Me

“O Apple Tree, Branch of the Apple Tree
Know that the tree is mine
The tallest tree with the sweetest apples
O Apple Tree, May God be with you
May the direction of East and West be with you
May every moon and sun be with you
May everything that comes before me be yours.”

~ Scottish Gaelic prayer

In my dream there was a tree.
My mother and sister sat in it with me.
It was Fall
And the leaves were on the ground —
Orange, yellows, browns,
And the tree stood firmly.

It was an apple tree.
Rotten apples were at its feet.
We were protected,
We were nourished in the tree —
The giving tree
The living tree.

The scene then shifts:
My sister and I were in a similar tree.
Fall apple leaves on the ground;
Sepia-tone reality.
And, mother was gone.
I knew father was there.
He was taking our picture.
My sister clutched the branch of the apple tree.
It was a troubling, struggling.
I clutched onto my sister and held on tight.
If either of us let go…
We’d drop five feet below…

As we let out faint cries,
Our suffering was clear.
While our father just took photographs
Of his little dears.
I thought to myself,
“what a jerk” —
(To want to take pictures of us
When we were left like this — alone —
When we couldn’t hold on.)

I fell…
Then she fell…
…in the apple tree no more…

Southern Appalachia —
Where this dream
Allowed me to wash clean
Of emotions stuck in a world in between.

Everywhere I walked in those mountains,
I found apple trees —
Just covered in heirloom apple trees,
Grandmother and grandfather trees,
Quite large and some towering,
Ever-abundant, ever-giving trees,
Blossoming white to pink in early Spring,
I always napped underneath…
They gave me comfort,
Celebrated my joys, (tears wiped on my sleeves)…

The last scene of my dream:
I was still this little girl,
This time, sitting near a little boy.
We were about 5 years old or so.
I was lying on my back on a log,
And he was sitting on the log
Throwing rocks into the water.
All I could hear in the thick silence
Was the
Of the small stones
Slapping the water
And sending circles out from their center.

Something shifted in my dream:
While I watched these two small children,
The scene started widen
as I moved further and further away.
I gasped as I took in the scene.
(Single stones still fell into the water
And then I saw them…
Giant, old-growth trees
Stacked on top of each other
Submerged in water —
A river of old-growth logs…

I was still lying on my back.
He was still slowly tossing stones.

There was this remembering…I felt
The destruction of something very old
All around us…
Gone and not a sound…

I woke up in panic…
In grief…
In sadness…
The grief turned into anxiety
And I could not fall back to sleep…

What has been done?

Was it I that felt destroyed?
— Or we (meaning you and me)?
Was it my family tree?
— Or ours?
They sat in silence, those children…
Something shakes in their bones
In that stillness…
And they still don’t know what…

July 2011 — Spring Creek, NC — This poem is based on a dream that I know have come to feel represents many layers of the destructive tendencies of our American culture.  My nuclear family’s problems layered with the destruction of massive, ancient forests in North America from 1700s to the 1900s, mainly.

Of course, the destruction and misunderstanding of the forests of North America still continues.  However, the massive logging and deforestation by the early settlers here is unparalleled.  When the trees have been cleared, normally mining takes root.  I wonder — when will our culture learn the benefits of intact and whole ecosystems and learn to live with them and not against them?

The interesting thing about this dream…is that I didn’t know that old-growth logs were sent down rivers to be collected downstream in the delta (most often) before railroads came along.  I dreamed that that logs were in a log jam going down a river.  Log jams were pretty common back in the 1800s and earlier when most of the deforestation happened.

To me, our culture needs to learn reciprocity in order to be adults.  Many people are in power who are not adults.  Many parents are in parental “power” and are not adults — they take and take and take and do not give back.  Our children watch this and are taught to take and not give back — not just to people, but to the planet as well.  I think Shel Silverstein describes this well in his children’s story “The Giving Tree”.

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