by: Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
The other day, I hugged a tree—there, I said it. I’m a closet tree hugger.
You’re probably thinking, “She’s lost it—too much time on her hands…out there in the country.”
Maybe I have, but there’s a reason behind my affection for this particular tree. My dad brought it to me some twenty-five years ago, from the banks of the river close to my home in Iowa. He knew how much I loved trees and how I missed the hardwoods that I’d grown up with.
I’m not a Kansas native, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed. I do love this state and have lived here longer than anywhere else. When I first came here, to live on this property, I could see it was lacking in native hardwood trees, rivers, trees, lakes, trees…well, you get my drift. So… I planted and planted until I felt fairly satisfied that my yard had enough trees, shrubs, and bushes so I could one day endure the one hundred degree-plus days of the Kansas summers. What I didn’t anticipate was the lack of water/rain that would be their demise. Sapling cottonwoods, struggled on our hilltop home, lilac bushes withered in the 1980’s drought. What was I thinking? My feeble attempt to keep them alive wasn’t working. My lawn was as crispy as shredded wheat. Oh, how I longed for the lush green lawns in my native Iowa.
How’d I end up on the Prairie, anyway?
Getting back to why I hugged a tree…my dad brought me a hard maple, the kind that turns a brilliant red-orange in the fall and shades so thick it blocks the sun all through the day. It was barely six-foot tall when he planted it for me. I watered it as a mother would nurse her baby. I watched it grow over the years making sure it was nurtured and cared for—I would not let this tree die. Dad said, “Hard maples are pretty hearty.” He’d plucked it from the layers of stone outcroppings along the river bank back in Iowa. That gave me hope, since we live at the edge of the flint hills of Kansas where layers of flint are just below a thin layer of topsoil.
Moving along…my dad’s tree is now over thirty feet tall and doing just fine. Every year I would send dad a picture of my tree, especially in the fall when it was breathtaking and spectacular with its blazing red, orange, and yellow foliage.
The past two years, Kansas has suffered another drought. We’ve lost several trees on our property, mainly soft, silver maples and cottonwoods. Guess who came through it just fine? I’ve heard it has to do with the tree’s root system. Whatever the reason, I’m very happy Dad’s tree survived.
So yesterday, I walked right over to it, put my arms around it, and gave it a big old hug. Somehow it was like hugging my dad. He passed in October, 2010.