Our back and side yards look fairly typical for suburban St. Louis. Our lot is about one fourth of an acre, and the house and driveway take up a good chunk of that. But the yard is manageable, and we have flower beds, trees, plants – what you’d expect. Well, almost. We do have a lot of plants. The trees are mostly in the backyard, along the fence – an ornamental cherry, hollies, river birches, and two magnolias.
On Sunday, I wandered outside ostensibly to pick up small branches after a recent storm, pull up grass growing where it’s not supposed to, picking up leaves and the long brown pods from that wretched catalpa tree across the street that sends every loose pod straight into out yard. I say “ostensibly,” because I had a secret mission.
I was really there to commune with nature, and do the field work for this week’s assignment from Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s poemcrazy: freeing your life with words. (Yes, the title is supposed to be in lower case; the author has an e.e. cummings fetish.) We’ve been discussing poemcrazy this month over at Tweetspeak Poetry, and I’ve already learned to be wary to some of the assignments, like giving names to your plants.
Outside, I first look to see if any of the adjacent neighbors are in their yards. They aren’t; everything is quiet. I’m careful because of what the assignment is: I’m supposed to find a tree and start talking with it, using the familiar “thou” instead of you. Of course, had I been completely diligent in the first assignment, I would have given the trees their own names, and wouldn’t have to worry about “you” and “thou.”
Goldsmith suggests an oak tree, but we had two of them cut down. There’s one on the neighbor’s property that still isn’t speaking to me several years after we had its sisters cut down and hauled away. But the electric company had already butchered them because they grew through the wires (and the street department required the trees to be planted there in the first place).
So I finally decided on one of the magnolias. I’m supposed to tap its wisdom, asking questions like, “Tree, what can thou tell me about roots and leaves?” I’m supposed to wait and listen how thou responds.
So I have my yard waste bag and will do a little weeding, cleaning and general sprucing up while Maggie (the magnolia) comes up with an answer.
Except she’s not in a particularly talkative mood. To be honest, I can’t say she’s ever been in a talkative mood. Maggie is more the strong, stoic type, and she’s not known for being much of a conversationalist. But Susan Wooldridge says she will eventually answer.
I keep up the conversation my end, asking her about a few new branches I see, telling her how pretty her flowers are, removing small river birch branches from Maggie’s branches. I’m chattering away, as difficult as that is (ask my wife how much of a chatterer I am), when I think I hear her respond.
“Hey, Young, whatcha doing?”
I shudder. No, it’s not Maggie. It’s my neighbor.
“I’m talking with Maggie,” I say.
“Maggie?” He asks, looking around.
“The magnolia,” I say, pointing to her. “I’m asking her to tell me something about her leaves and roots.”
My neighbor stares for a moment, then finally speaks.
“Weren’t you talking with a dandelion a couple of weeks back? You named her Irma?”
I nod, with a sinking feeling that this is not going to end well.
“Is work getting to you? Maybe you should go in and lie down.”
No, this isn’t going to end well.
“I’m doing an assignment,” I say. “I’m supposed to talk with a tree, and listen to what it tells me.”
My neighbor makes a gurgling noise as he turns red and his shoulders begin to shake.
No, this is not going to end well.
We’re discussing poemcrazy over at Tweetspeak Poetry. Visit the site to find out if anyone else has been talking with trees.