Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Day one hundred and twenty-eight ... Together, we grow apart

Nobody asks the trees.

I bet it's hardly ever given a thought.

I mean, it's a silly proposition if you stop to think about it--asking a tree what it thinks.

Where do you speak?

In all of nature, if, or when, one talks aloud to a plant, or a rock, or a body of water, we usually just assume, because we are doing something completely illogical, that the object in question can hear us, see us, and, if for some strange reason it is paying attention to us, give our question or comment any consideration at all.

Maybe it's asleep.

We, as the self absorbed, vain, and ignorant animals that we are, just figure that if we are doing something--anything--that we are being paid attention to.

I love to see the parents who will let their children carry on, and on, and on, while they just sit there and read, or talk to a companion. It is also interesting to note whether said companion has a look of worry or concern that the parent isn't paying attention to their child; I suppose they'll get their chance someday, if they so desire.

I used to think this was a sign of bad parenting. But when it is done with the right intent--to show the child that they are not the sole being in the universe--I can predict its effectiveness in deterring acquisition of narcissistic tendencies in the future.

I wish my mom had done it.

But I grew up to be a model, if not above average, specimen of the human race, right?

Right. (insert sarcastic grimace, please)

But nobody asked the trees, and they are older than any of us are, or could ever hope to be.

I have a lot of strange mental habits. A lot of them have recently been sent packing as a result of my abstinence from drugs and alcohol, for which I am grateful. It's a large part of what keeps me on track.

Some of these habits I can't even recall if I tried; they were part and parcel of the practice of intoxication.

But there is one that I recall quite vividly each time I take a walk downtown.

The Drinking Tree.

I have a shortcut where I live. I have only had a car for a year and change, and I haven't always had a bike. So, when I would walk downtown, which almost always included a trip to the package store, I used to take this alternate path through the woods.

There is a large tree on this path with a medium-sized branch that sticks out at a 90 degree angle at the trunk. It must have broken off in a storm. The branch is sort of growing from a hollow portion of the trunk; it looks cool.

One day, a few years ago, I started to talk to this tree.

This was well before my mother passed on and I began to talk aloud even more often.

I can't even recall when it started--talking to the Drinking Tree--but it became somewhat of an obsession, a good luck ritual. I mean, who knows? If you ask the average human, they'll say they know, but perspective is so hard to attain, let alone practice.

It was almost always on my way back through the shortcut that I would exhibit this behavior. The walk from my house past the Drinking Tree was always quicker than my journey back. Because, of course, on my way back I'd have what I needed: a bottle of vodka in a brown bag, and a safe, wooded, unlit path home.

Anyway, when I'd get to the Drinking Tree, halfway up the path, I would stop. I'd crack open the bottle, forcing its red, plastic top away from the jagged poof-of-purchase ring with a full, quick, and economical twist. Then, holding the cap in my right hand, and the bottle in my left, I would step up to the tree.

"Hello, Drinking Tree," I'd say.

"I know, I know, I should be taking better care of myself. But I'm really in a bad way and this is the only thing I know how to do to make myself feel better. You know I'm trying, right?"

These words, I have said, for real, on any given occasion, to a tree on the edge of a wooded hillside.

Crazy-talk, right?


But I wouldn't stop there. No, this kid had to take it one step further.

After making my presence known, and occasionally responding to an unheard comment, I would tip the bottle towards the trunk of the tree and pour an ounce or so on the ground, essentially giving the Drinking Tree a shot of my $5.99-a-pint vodka.

"Drink up, Drinking Tree. It was good talking to you."

And I'd go home.

What the hell is this kid on?

I don't know why, in fact, I did this.

Was it to pretend I wasn't drinking alone? Did I feel like I wasn't consuming the whole bottle if I poured a shot onto the trunk of a tree? Did I think that a 100 year old oak tree had had such a bad day that it needed a shot? And then, if it did, did I actually think that one shot would get--what had to be a few thousand pounds of a tree--even a little drunk? Maybe it had a problem. Maybe I caused it. Through my carelessness, could I have been enabling an oak tree to exhibit alcoholic tendencies that had lay dormant for hundreds of years?

Maybe it liked it.

Lord knows it stood there all day, every day, watching tens of people walk by, not even stopping to say hi, walking their dogs or riding their bikes, furry squirrels running up and down hiding nuts and making homes in its chambers, ants and beetles and dragon flies buzzing and crawling around on its skin not even thinking if their host minds.

Nobody ever asks the trees.

I have ridden my bike down the Norwottock Rail Trail bike path, that runs from Northampton to Amherst, for many years.

The route had initially been used as a railroad from 1887 until its demise in 1979. In 1993 a mixture of tar and recycled glass chunks was laid down to form the bike path. It's a beautiful 8.5 mile stretch, filled with picturesque farmscapes, parts of which offer a fantastic view of the Connecticut River.

Nobody asked the trees.

And so, over time, what was once, a flat, even, black tar surface, has become riddled with bumps and cracks from the undeterred roots of the residents which line its path.

The silent landlords sit on either side of their property, angling towards each other; nary a trunk stands straight. They are a family, and they have been split down the middle at their base, yet they strive for connection with each fiber of their thinning, spindly branches.

As we try to improve our health and save the planet by bicycling to and from work or play, the trees are reminding us where they come from. They forcibly slow us down with their uneven and random speed bumps telling us,"This is not your land."

The trees iterate their origins, while daily we move farther and farther from ours, to the point of omitting information of where we hail.

"I'm from Northampton."

No I'm not.

I am from Fall River, damn it! I live in Northampton.

While we re-connect with old friends and classmates, through our myriad electronic matchmakers and private investigators, from the comfort of our homes, the daily methods of nature are reminding us of how far apart we have grown from our center.

While we move apart, our roots protrude from below and break the smooth surface of our caricature of community.

Cheaper airfare and the lure of higher profile, better paying employment, is corroding the basic elements of the nuclear family, while at the same time, ensuring us that we can make enough to fly home for the holidays and share, with those who raised us, evidence of the fruits from our insatiable quest for success.

But until the trees have been cut down and turned into the furniture that we rest our tired, overworked bodies on, their roots will continue to grow. They will continue to lacerate the smoothest bicycle path, the most solidly laid sidewalk, the heaviest of buildings made with the strongest material man has most recently developed. They will break through the foundation, infuriating contractors and architects both, while we stand there and marvel at their resilience.

But nobody ever asks the trees.

What do they know?

Thanks for reading.


PS: I don't know about you, but where I live it's a beautiful day for a bike ride.

Just remember where you came from.


Anonymous said...


Thanks Freddy.

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting thing: even when you cut them down to make furniture, unless you remove the stump, they will sprout new little branches --they're tenacious. thanks fred.