Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why Are The Trees So Tall?

Yesterday the sky was clear and bristling with a sunny, frosty hint of spring. I had quite a bit of driving to do and the mountains kept me company. Standing in attendance to my right and my left with their starched white shirtfronts, not yet thawed into their casual open collars of summer. To the south, straight ahead of me from certain vantage points and always looming somewhere in the periphery of things no matter which direction you face, stood Rainier. It looks for all the world like a giant trying to push its impossibly enormous head up through a blanket of earth and snow. A friend spent the night in a snow cave there a few weekends ago and I imagined him secretly while he described it, bedding down for the night in a nostril. His wife is thankful the giant didn't sneeze.

We muddle around here, I muddle more than most. I drive down a glittering, tottery ribbon of asphalt and steel and listen to songs I almost recognize while the mechanical heat blows on my face. I am small among this landscape as it never ceases to remind me. Even when the clouds and the fog obscure the giants and my craggy butlers, the cedars rise to heights that frighten all but the most intrepid of birds and the salty Sound laps against the city, calling to its sister lake on the other side of all this glitter and glass.

My Hooligan leaned over during church and whispered solemnly: "What happens when the time stops?" I explained as best I could in hushed tones on the front row that I didn't know for sure. It's unsettling to a boy of six that his mother who seems to know his every action before he does it, the cure to whatever ails him, and all of her multiplication tables, would just casually admit to ignorance of such things. "But why are the trees so tall?" he pressed on. These were somehow connected in the recesses of his brain. "Because they keep growing," was all I could tell him.

We struggle and muddle. We ponder the trees of time and rush on our rubber wheels to destinations farther than we could walk in a day. We burden ourselves with our petty quarrels, our slights and mishaps and we raise tiny fists into the faces of these mountains and declare our might. We squeak with helium voices and snort and root like babies, seeking a teat of comfort, biting and toothless, whimpering and powerless.

We have lost jobs, lost income, lost loved ones, lost dignity, lost health, lost home, lost faith, lost interest, lost our ways. We are eroded by time and circumstance and stand minuscule in the absence of the things that have washed away from us in this current of acid rain. We turn on each other like cannibals, each seeking our own dominance, our own scrap of illusory power - an argument won, a superior method, a more enlightened perspective, a better diet, a more cynical discontent. When the moles speak of enlightenment, it amuses the sun. We crawl like ants over the face of things and consume and console ourselves that it was organic, all-natural, sustainable, packaged neatly and brightly somewhere near Berkeley. We shore ourselves up with all the right books and the proper articles forwarded to friends where safely agreeable heads can nod along with us at our cleverness. We pad ourselves with what's at hand, with what we've deemed fit - desperately grasping to patch the evidence of inevitable erosion and we grasp and preen in each our own ways and deny that we do. We never stop to ask the Grand Canyon what she thinks of loss - her views on the forces of time, of the bearing down of life for days and years unending. We only stare speechless with the magnitude and beauty of a massive hole in the ground and then turn in search of a commemorative postcard. Our proof that we were somewhere once.

These are the things I think while I drive. I traverse to and fro, making my tiny marks in disappearing ink in the journals of other souls. I drive miles, escorted by mountains, to build my tiny empires of human connection. I laugh at my own overestimation of myself - a seed, a stunted sapling. My Hooligan asks the right question, perhaps: "But why are the trees so tall?" The unrelenting enormity of them darkens his eyes and his chin gains an extra dimple or two in his concentration near tears. These towering monoliths with arms uplifted, stretching ever skyward. Taller than even his dad. The unrelenting enormity of this small boy's spirit unfurls in these questions and darkens my own face. I want him to be as tall as these trees, to reach the collars of the mountain giants and whisper in their ears. I fear my ignorance and smallness will erode him until he becomes a mole or an ant or a muddler like me.

"Because they keep growing, my love," is all I can say.


  1. This.

    "When the moles speak of enlightenment, it amuses the sun."

    Tell the Hooligan the trees are trying, in vain effort, to touch the very edge of light.

  2. Such perspective, expressed with such poetry. I wonder what WOULD the grand canyon say about loss. Beautiful... best warm hugs and answers to Hooligan and to you.

  3. I love that they question things that we never even consider.
    I love so much of this, like- "their starched white shirtfronts, not yet thawed into their casual open collars of summer."

  4. So tiny. We are so very tiny. I just listened to an audio book on a road trip: Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. It was amusing, amazing, a bit more technical than I wanted. But I thought of that book while reading about starched white shirtfronts and the Grand Canyon's perspective on loss.

    1. A hundred years too late, I am here to say I loved that book--though he did go into a bit more depth about slime molds than was entirely necessary. I read the book 8 or 9 years ago (shortly after it first came out, whenever that was) and I still have the occasional nightmare. ;)


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