July 20, 2019

A Poet and Essayist Meditates on the Deep Roots Binding Humans and Trees

A Poet and Essayist Meditates on the Deep Roots Binding Humans and Trees

Wright’s tree-visitations are shadowed by the ubiquitous complaints of 21st-century “Thoreaus,” bereft among threatened forests and polluted waterways. Wright’s own righteous anger is aimed at the usual pestilent enemies of the natural world and ecological balance — parasitic insects or their human kin, “developers, apparatchiks, celebrities, lobbyists” — her zingers outdistancing predictable “green” rants.

“My approach is close to ceremonial,” Wright notes. “I go to pay my respects … palpitating heart in hand” even as she aims “not to anthropomorphize” her subjects. Yet she is most effective when she fails in this goal — as when she stands before arboreal wisdom, the unique communal welfare-consciousness of trees: “Mono-layered leafers like the beech avoid blocking out each other’s light by forming a jigsaw-like pattern to capture the light.”

This follows a previous humanizing impulse, spoken ringside: “A tree is a resilient fighter. Likewise poets, single mothers, and teachers.” Still, “We respirate, they transpirate.”

Beech “leafers,” she notes, are best planted together in staunch communities, bower-colonies. They remain rooted, of course, with all their movement in situ, but Wright mentions a field book that terms them “time travelers.” This sense of being simultaneously planted and in transit perhaps applies to all trees, yet Wright seems particularly sensitive to the way beeches stand still yet witness all. Even their pale scroll-like silver bark moves within the imaginations of human “taggers” who enlist them as messengers:

“Witness tree, graffiti tree, tattoo tree, autograph tree, trysting tree, avenue tree, arborglyph, CMT (culturally modified tree). … They say it really doesn’t hurt the tree, all that carving. But harm and hurt are different. Beech bark is a tender thing.”

Tender too is the author’s imagination, inscribing her “humans were here” graffiti on a page that began as tree flesh. Writing is a thought-knife, carving into her readers’ consciousness. A sense of belonging to a larger collective vision reinforces Wright’s fragments, as they remain cryptic yet illuminating in the manner of nature itself, sharing secrets only with those who “read the leaves” closely. Thus Wright allows little direct sunlight on the narrating “I,” though she offers a series of pastoral snapshots from her childhood in the Ozarks — memories of growing into the soul of a poet.

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