I think that I shall never see/ A poem, lovely as a tree
A leafy place for me to pee/ A lofty perch, to stand and see
A home amidst the blowing winds/ An easy place to meet with friends
A tree, a tree, I like them tall/ As far as trees, I like them all.
My apologies to Joyce Kilmer. When it comes to the subject of trees, my passions sometimes get the best of me; I'm prone to succumb to the temptations of light verse. A vice, to be sure, but not an altogether awful one—after all, the verse could have been heavy.
Trees are not sticks. It's important to remember that. Sticks can fit in your mouth. If you try to fit your mouth around a tree, what happens is you quickly realize that it's vertical, so you crank your neck around 90 degrees, and you spread your jaws as big as you can, and, pushing as hard as you can through your hind legs, you start forcing your lips wider and wider around the impossibly large curve of the tree's bark. "I can do this," you tell yourself as your canine teeth dig ever deeper into the soft wood. If only you could see yourself. You've only managed to fit a few degrees worth of the total circumference of the tree trunk into your mouth! You feel like a champion, but you look a little deranged. I've been there! It's okay.
If a tree is not a stick, what is it? As far as I've been able to tell, a tree is more like a big stick, with an umbrella on top. When it rains, you can get under the tree. When it's hot, you can get under the tree. If you need a place to retreat to while you wolf down the half packet of Oscar Mayer bologna that you found sitting on the curb by the pizza store like a loose diamond glittering in the sun, you can get under the tree. A tree is tall. A tree is shelter. A tree is a big stick with what I imagine must be a sort of canopy, or maybe a layer of pancakes, on top. It's not completely clear. I have to make deductions based on the evidence available to me. It's not so different from my normal hobby of solving crimes in my mind. In this case, the "crime" is a tree, and the "criminal" is "what is a tree?" I'll tell you what a tree isn't: a bad place to sit under.
Under the tree, I appreciate things. Not just the breeze and the shade and the remnants of bologna juice still clinging to the plastic Oscar Mayer packaging even after dozens of scourings from my moist and greedy tongue; I appreciate the tree itself. Its majesty. A tree is how I imagine a king to be. Tall, and full of bugs. I may never get my mouth around it. But then again, I may.
Let me just try one more time.
[Illustration by Jim Cooke]