Plant a Tree and Reforest the Earth

We are living in a season of grief. We are living in a season of mass bereavements – from Covid19 or other causes – where we are limited in our expressions of mourning. We are also facing grief for injustices done. Sadness is an appropriate response. Anger is an understandable response. In my own sorrow I turned to poetry. This is the book I plucked from the shelf.

Alice Walker brought out this complete collection by The Women’s Press in 1991.

Before I tell you about the poem that I turned to, I want to speak as some one who grew up as a white person in a small town that had one black family and two mixed race families. In 1968 I was eleven and the land of my birth was being shriven with unrest caused by civil rights withheld and a foreign conflict that many did not sanction. Protests that turned ugly were on the 6:30 news most summer evenings. (We religiously watched NBC’s The Huntley Brinkley Report in our household.) That raised my consciousness, as well as the assasinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. What I had to help educate myself and build empathy was good reading matter.

My elementary school publicised a subscription book club where you could buy cheap paperbacks every month. I spent a lot of my weekly allowance with that Book Club. As a book worm tween I was able to buy and read books like Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery and a biography of Mary MacLeod Bethune. Because I was also hungry for biographies of women (which were thin on the ground in the 1960s), I understood on some unconscious level the desire of having someone who looks like you reflected in the world. In those days we had a new phrase “role models.” I might not have had the same skin colour as Bethune, but golly she was a Mighty Woman! What reading did for me was educate me about lives that were different from mine, but were interesting and powerfully inspiring. It also gave me context for what was happening contemporaneously. Reading forged a connection that transcended social, racial, religious, and gender differences. It also exercised my empathy muscle and prepared me for reading The Diary of Anne Frank. By puberty I was well informed at just how low humans could go in terms of harming fellow human beings.

So, readers, please give your children books that will give them context to help them understand the why of what it happening at this moment. It will help them in so many ways.

Now, to the poem that helped me write the Sunday Weekly poem and also to navigate my sadness with this moment in our history. The poem is Alice Walker’s “Torture” that runs through a litany of “when they torture your…” loved ones with the response “Plant a Tree.” The final verse runs thus:

When they begin to torture

the trees

and cut down the forest

they have made

start another.

Alice Walker “Torture” from Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful
Let Us Breathe

All the millions cut down
robbing the biozone of CO2...
All the millions burned
in a Holocaust where we learned
nothing.
                  Enough is enough.

Plant a tree for George Floyd.
Then plant another and another.
Plant a tree for the strange fruit
hanging for 400 years
from innocent trees. 
Plant a tree in memory. We too soon 
forget.
                  But, enough is enough.

Plant a tree for the named and the nameless.
Plant a tree for all those who could not breathe.
Plant a tree of all of us who still cannot breathe.
Plant a green lung to ventilate the planet.
Let us breathe.
Let us breathe. 
Plant a tree.


Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
Tree on Yeats Lake Isle of Innisfree
Tree on Yeats’ Lake Isle of Innisfree in Lough Gill, Co. Sligo, Ireland

Featured image is a Photo by Pedro Kümmel on Unsplash

Alphabet of Trees

Here we are the morning after Earth Day with a new moon in the earthy sign of Taurus, the sacred bull of Baal. Or the protective milk producing mother of calves, if you prefer. The prompt for Day 23 of NaPoWrMo wants us to write a poem about a particular letter of the alphabet. But how to choose? How could I play favourites? I thought: What would Emily advise? And she replied: Tell it slant. So, in the spirit of Earth Day it occurred to say it with trees. To celebrate Earth Day I took my exercise down our lane and around our acre, admiring the trees – the blossom on the blackthorn, the uncurling of leaves, the still tight bud that should be hawthorn blossom in another week or so, and the varying colours, sheen and texture of bark.

Ancient Ireland had an alphabet based on trees known as the ogham (say that like the meditative OM, the g is silent.) The alphabet remains. How exactly it was used is shrouded in Iron Age mists. There are stones with it carved into the rock. So…ripe for poetric license.

Alphabet of Trees

Semiphore flags - the leaves -
the alphabet of trees long ago etched
in standing stone. Ogham.
Its survival a mystery of seed,
trunk, limb, right up to
leafy canopy clammer of things
to signify.

My name could be a combination
of straight birch, white fir and witch elder.
My clan's surname is a snaking fence
woven of multiple willow withies.
Gorse in full flower is an exclamation.
Add the white thorn's flower 
and you have springtime's yell hallow.

Time is holly, yew, vine and poplar -
prickly, ancient, tenacious, 
also flexible to the way the wind blows.


Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020, All rights reserved.

yew tree ogham tree alphabet
Hugging an ancient yew tree in Armagh’s Palace Gardens many years ago

NaPoWriMo Day 10 Good Friday

After the fiend of a yesterday’s concrete poem, today’s prompt is a little bit more in my comfort zone. It is a spin on the spare haiku form. Calling itself Hay(na)ku, it is still the familiar three lines. But instead of syllabic counting you need to count words. Line 1 has a single word. Line 2 has two words. Line 3 has 3 words. You can stop with a single stanza or you can link them a bit like a renga.

Nature does not come into it necessarily, like it would for a haiku. Although nature wanted in when I started writing. Also, I realise that I am a product of my religious upbringing, so other certain seasonal imagery crept in. My creative colleague, http://@HelenShay, did a Maundy Thursday poem instead of the concrete poem yesterday, which may be why my own poem today is straying into that territory. Also…I am a product of my religious upbringing, no matter how lapsed I may now be.

(NB: NaPoWriMo is a bit of a community. It is good to connect!)

But before I give you the hay(na)ku, here are some photo images of nature as it is unfurling this spring in my townland in Ireland. I know that for city dwellers this lockdown must be a lot harder than for us country dwellers. Being able to look at nature, even digitally, is supposed to be good for our immune systems. So this is my contribution to shut-ins’ daily dose of immune boosting nature.

townland home
The townland I call home

Communion
 
Leaves
On twigs
Emerged overnight, tiny
 
Blossom
On blackthorn
Appeared communion veiled
 
Trees
Stand. Say
“Take this. Eat.
 
We
Are memory" 
Twig, leaf, thorn
 
Flower
Bud, fruit
Beech mast floor
 
Tree
Branches bare
You and me
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
 

Take Five Senses

In a couple of hours I am going to be evangelising about using lots of detail to describe things in writing. The project I am engaged in involves heritage and last week I introduced the ogham tree alphabet. But in some interactions I realised that even these rural school children are less than fluent in naming tree species. We live in such a biodiverse setting, too, it seems a pity. But this is what comes of losing words like acorn and willow from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. (Please see my poem on the Lost Words in my post https://sojourningsmith.blog/2018/02/18/lost-worlds/.) My creative writing facilitator/teacher and Marble Arch Caves Geopark guide roles overlap sometimes as I spread the word about our natural heritage.

Later this morning I am going to challenge some kids to get acquainted with a tree species by writing a five senses poem. This involves getting in words that describe your subject using all your senses: sight, smell, hearing, feeling and taste. Since trees are our subject the taste part may be difficult, but we’ll work on it. I figured I ought to do one in that kind of ‘here’s one I made earlier’ way, to illustrate how you might tackle it. I chose willow for my poem today. I can see one from my window. The Irish name for willow is sailleach. The Hiberno-English corruption of that is sally. Hence, the title of today’s Poetry Daily.

Sally 

There is a certain scent-
early morning raindrops on tender leaf-
that could be bottled and labeled
'Willow Water',
marketed as essence
of her special brand of dilute green.
.
Sally's fronds shiver against the wind.
Her shoulders shudder.
It's too early for such bluster.
She shooshes for quiet.
It's like the sough of waves
as the tide rushes over pebble beach.
But the sea is miles and miles away.
Besides, Sal prefers the peaty water
from the depths of ditches
that run straight in rows
along the sides of the road.

She's that slender you'd not know
how strong she really can be.
See how she turns her face
away from the wind.
She bends and blends.
I can hear her giggling glee
standing out there in a storm.
She's like one of those cheerleaders
who bobs and waves pompoms
when her team makes a score.

She can do the tumbling routines, too.
But if you bump and get bruised
Sal is the sort who would be
the first to aid.
She'd peel the shirt right off her back
to help any and all,
make some bark tea for you
to drink away every bitter ache.
That's just our Sally.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Layers

I am not feeling exactly on my game this morning. Either I have really bad hayfever, or I have a cold. This past week I guided local school children on a walk on the Cavan Burren. We are fortunate to walk on land that has been continuously, but gently, occupied for as long as humans have lived in Ireland. Most of these school children come from families with centuries long roots in this place that is very much on the map in the myths told about the first peoples of ancient Ireland. 

I was pointing out how rocks and trees were the big story of this place.  It is thought that high chieftains were inaugurated under a tree sacred to their clan. But we also have the inaugural stone for Clan Maguire not far from us.  The Tuatha dé Danaan are said to have landed first on Slieve Anieran, which is twenty miles or less from them, just over the boundary in Leitrim. The goddess Danu  is said to have married Bile,  the old Irish word for tree.  The school group in Glangevlin lives close to the Belavalley Gap, where the Tuatha’s smith forged their magical weapons. And then, because I have atrocious Irish pronunciation there was a brief discussion between the teacher and children about the word tuatha. Most often it is translated as the people, or tribe, or the children of Danu. But it also has a further nuance, which carries with it  the sense of it being the place, or land, of Danu. 

Which hit me like a big chunk of sedementary rock off of one of those glacial erratics in Cavan Burren Forest. Which also has its fair share of rock art cup and ring marks.


Layers


Once

land was the same word

for people.

It meant

belonging.

As a marriage

can be happy,

fruitful

as a tree –

bud

blossom, fruit

berry.

Just another

layer

of being,

many

and one,

but not

the same.

The land

is layer

upon layer-

sand,

granite,

lime and iron

in rock.

The first people

are the mother cup.

The rings

carve out

the generations

widening out.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith

The Last Stand

It is local wisdom that once you turn agricultural land over to forestry you have given up on the land. It is an act of despair, a giving up on making a living from raising cattle or a bit of horticulture. Over the years 50% of agricultural land in County Leitrim has been turned over to monoculture Sitka spruce plantations. The county that spear-headed the ban on fracking in Ireland is now taking on forestry. Read more about the campaign on Save Leitrim website http://saveleitrim.ie/.

We have a Sitka spruce plantation just across our lane. We may live in West Cavan, but we have a lot of forestry that has been planted over the years here, too. But we have avoided the clear cutting of it when it comes to harvest time. Enter the red squirrel. Which we see now and again round the neighbourhood and has been making a come back west of the River Shannon.

Irish Red Squirrel Conserve Ireland
Image found on ConserveIreland.com

The Irish red squirrel (aka Sciurus vulgaris , aka Iora Rua ) is an endangered species and therefore has its habitat protected. A timely sighting of our furry friends, reported to the local Conservation officer, put paid to any clear cutting the plantation over the road. Because red squirrels feed on both deciduous and spruce trees. So they cut half of it in 2010, replanted it with a combination of spruce and broadleaved species, and then waited for their food stock to mature some before coming back for the (now very elderly, nearly 60 year old) trees left.

Last Stand

For months they have shaved away
at the half-plantation
we prevented
being clear-cut
(because the red squirrel
living off these trees
is a protected species.)

They came for them eight years on,
lumbering day and night.
They took the trees
some storm left standing
at 45 degrees
(bent like that for years)
their machines shearing

before dawn and after dark,
in all weathers, in snow,
in torrent,
even Storm Eric -
until I can almost
see the Playbank's rump
rising above stumps.

There is one last stand of trees
who have been our neighbours
for nearly these
seventeen years,
sheltering between
two drumlins rising,
those trees, their being.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved

Featured Photo by Jace & Afsoon on Unsplash

The last stand
The view across from our home last week.

Naming

I am rather preoccupied with life laundry and workshop planning. I drafted a poem first thing, but the process has been interrupted by tasks away from the keyboard. So I am now proceeding to get the post out and poem re-drafted during my 4pm slump. (I was born this way. My mother could never get me to nap on Dr. Spock’s schedule . BTW he was the Boffin author of a 1950s Baby Bible and nothing to do with Star Trek schedule. I routinely flaked out 4pm and an elder sibling would be tasked with rousing me for supper at 6pm.)

So this post and poem will probably reflect a certain tiredness without benefit of nap time. Also, feeling a bit rushed. Which will also be the case tomorrow. What I need is an Ivory Tower and a self-cleaning house. Oops, that sounds a tad Mrs. Cranky. Better get on with it!

Naming

First, it is tree.

Upon further acquaintance

With the silver and gold glimmer on bark

Its rough and smooth

Shine and shadow

The cycling through bud, leaf, flower

Does it fruit?

Then we get properly introduced

And on a first name basis

Because Alder is not Ash

Despite having catkins

Hazel is not Willow

(Who sometimes goes by Sally)

The orange flare in Rowan’s red berry

Is not the red of a September haw.

Frost turns a blackthorn’s sloe

 Shade of Midnight Quink

I could crush the Elder’s berries juice

And write my name with it

A name is not just an arboretum label

With its Latin alias, too

A name is a kind of destiny

The beginning to a

Knowing intimacy

That goes far beyond tree

Copyright Bee Smith 2018