Oaks against the sky, Ramparts of leaves high-hurled, Staunch to stand and defy All the winds of the world; Stalwart and proud and free, Firing the man in me To try and again to try – Oaks against the sky.
– Excerpt from Trees Against The Sky, Poem by Robert William Service
It’s not a good idea to fall in love with a guy whose favorite book is the dictionary. This thought occurred to me today when I perused my 1995 10th Edition of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, which I would prefer over using the Internet to look up words, but my eyes can’t take it.
I felt something like comedic irony when I saw her inscription to me in this dictionary, my Good Book, a gift on the third anniversary of our first date.
That relationship brought me to the brink of swearing off women forever. After dalliances since then, I’m now so selective, it’s as good as having sworn off them. I won’t deny the possibility of someone coming along to inspire a romance that makes people dismissive of Tristan and Isolde, or that inspires me to write an eternally classic novel about civil war, bells tolling, and earth-moving sex. (Hemingway, you delightful madman.) Still, she won’t lure me away from Balsamea, or get me to abandon my little Defiant Oak tree.
Sentinel Oak with The Balsamean’s head in the lower branches to be removed soon. Remove the branches, not the head.
In 2005, the birth year of Balsamea, my father asked if there were any oak trees on the property. I had not seen them. Over time, I learned that there were many red oaks. They are one of our minority trees, but the mature ones number about one per acre, and there are dozens of seedlings and saplings. We would have many more oaks, were it not for the deer munching on their buds every winter. I have seen them kill a 3-foot healthy oak in two seasons.
On that day in May 2005 when I closed on the property purchase, I immediately installed a cable gate across the entrance. Dumpers had abused the property, a practice that ended that day, and became a considerable process of remediation for me. Still I find things resurfacing from below ground.
While opening space for access to the right trees to attach the cable, I noticed two little red oaks about two feet tall each. One was in excellent condition. The other was crushed under a fallen gray birch. I left the latter alone to grow in its own way, and it has done well. The former, I nursed and lightly pruned over the years, to encourage a nice geometric shape.
While close-up face to face with him and looking at each other’s eyes, Buddy slipped instantly from fully conscious into unconscious perfect peace, and then within a couple of minutes (tough guy – he needed a second dose) into irreversible, eternal oblivion at 9:06 AM today, August 5, 2015, eight years since he adopted me in August 2007. He was about 9 years old, date of birth unknown. He adopted me as a stray. The last words he heard, repeatedly, were, “You’re a good Buddy.” Nothing is more true. Thanks, all, for your caring support. I know that some of you have been really “there” for us, and continue so. It counts. It matters.
Thank you, Buddy.
I’m going for a walk now, as you would have
me do now and at least three times every day.
He chose Wednesday because there is a cord binding our hearts as three, and the third person will say goodbye to Buddy on Tuesday. The cord has an existential role in Balsamea and its inhabitants’ relationships with each other and the world. It has been a lifeline keeping me out of the hospital and morgue. On countless occasions, the cord has heightened Balsamea to a state of being that banished impossibility. Continue reading →
Balsamea’s new veterinarian, Dr. Nick Sherman summed up the change when he said of Buddy, Prince of Balsamea, “He’s a seizure dog now.” That was the night he gave me a supply of phenobarbital, because Buddy had four general (i.e., “grand mal” or full-body) seizures in one day, February 10, 2015.
So he’s “a seizure dog” now, but he retains his royalty, and reigns here as ever.
Six years ago a first-time visitor to Balsamea — call him Schmoe — looked at a young beech tree in the yard (then just a campsite) and asked, “What’s that doing there?”
This is the tree Schmoe asked about. At the time it was about half this size.
His tone seemed to imply that there was something wrong with it being there — or something wrong with me for having it there.
I told him it was a beech tree that I saved when I cleared all the other original trees from that little part of the forest. (This was during my Thoreauvian Experiment, living off-grid in a 100 square foot camper for two years, with a dog, before Balsamea grew a house in 2010. I had cleared only a small space in the woods, less than a tenth of an acre.)
Other examples of American Beech:
I kept that tree because it had a nice shape, as opposed to so many other trees growing scraggly in our dense, competitive woods. When allowed to grow in the open, beeches have a beautiful shape and make terrific shade trees and climbing trees, and they produce spectacular autumn colors that last long after all the maples go bare.
When clearing space, I kept a lot of trees that were in bad shape, too. I nursed them along and they are wonderful now. In truth they were always wonderful. I just imposed my aesthetic notions on them, with the help of lopping shears.
Before I got to tell Schmoe why I kept that beech tree, or why I liked it, he added, “It’s a junk tree. They get that bark rust.”
The “bark rust” starts with an insect infestation which causes a fungal infection. Other than this bark condition, everything about this big old beach (one of our tallest) seems normal, and has been this way for at least 9 years that I know of.
What is it about a situation like this that seems to
put something like vacuum pressure on the soul?
The situation, the experience, the moment, not the picture. The picture is a good reminder of what it was like, but as pictures go, it’s just an interesting snapshot of an arboreal skyscraper (I’ll keep the copyright just the same, thanks). The picture is also a reminder to keep looking up for scenery too often missed.
Backed by a twilight sky and the moon, the beech tree showed up at roadside at the end of a late afternoon’s short hike in a massive new parcel of state land enveloping Ellenburg Mountain in Ellenburg, NY.
Below are a few other things entertaining me that day in the woods, where boredom is impossible, mood problems go into remission, and from which bio-psycho-social health benefits continue into the future. Yes, there are social health benefits even if you’re out there alone. Think about it.
Deep in the woods there is a great way to ensure that you get fantastic wildlife photography opportunities. Leave your camera home.
I’ve said before that our deer population is too high, and this year more than ever. Among the family here, there is one deer that has learned that Buddy and I are harmless. Harmless enough that in the woods he lets us come close enough and stay long enough to discuss life. The deer doesn’t say much, but he seems to be interested in what I say. Stupid things humans say to wild animals.
Keep in mind that Balsamea is densely forested, surrounded by forest on all sides, and many miles of it, with a smattering of houses. Our deer have not acclimated to people by their suburban gardens. Deer at Balsamea are wild. As they should be. Just one of them is getting too familiar with us since mid-summer.
During a slow sylvan saunter, if I stand still more than move, in bodily senses and in palpable transcendent essences I find reminders that nature made me to thrive among immortal woodland spirits, in refuge from the illusory blessings of merely mortal society. I cannot exceed the company of trees, nor regret deep solitude among them.
Each phase of nature, while not invisible, is yet not too distinct and obtrusive. It is there to be found when we look for it, but not demanding our attention. It is like a silent but sympathizing companion in whose company we retain most of the advantages of solitude … — Henry David Thoreau, Journal, November 8, 1858
Several species and forms of Balsamean herald the advent of Spring earlier than all others. They remind us of the unmerited gift of the life we have at Balsamea, and to live it consciously. Continue reading →
Since Balsamea is named for its abundance of native “Christmas Trees;” i.e., balsam fir (Abies balsamea), the least we can do is share this information, in the spirit of the season. I hope you do not encounter the Christmas Tree Worm while bedecking your solstice arborescence. If you do, please don’t eat it. Release it back into the wild.