Molly Fisk: Tree Witness

One of my favorite days of the year is December 26th. It’s not that I don’t like the 25th — I do. It’s just that no matter how hard I try, Christmas will get my number one way or another. It’s so loaded with meaning, memory, expectation, and effort. I find myself happily wrapping little presents and singing the third and fourth verses of carols I didn’t know I remembered. But after the ribbons and scotch tape, the cooking and socializing, which has been building for weeks, and then the crescendo of the day itself, I’m more than ready for lethargy and solitude.

On the 26th, I stay in my nightgown all morning, browsing through the books people gave me, now and then washing a dish or two. I go for a walk by myself, just to feel my feet on the ground and remember the human animal was designed for walking. I don’t get into the car. Lord knows, I don’t need groceries, and anything else can wait. My wood stove’s flue got stuck last night at the half-way point, so I’ll have to pay more attention to stoking the fire than usual. But I won’t call for help until tomorrow.

Today the weather is clear and bright and freezing. I live on an acre of mostly open land. When I first arrived, I began planting trees to shade the house and provide more habitat for birds. A decade later, I’ve started a secret post-Christmas tradition. This is the day I go outside and talk to my trees. I know: it sounds like I’ve had too much eggnog, but remember, poets are allowed to be a little strange.

I place my hand on each trunk and say hello to the Persimmon, the two Crab apples, the Willow, Maple, Box Elder, and Purple Mountain Ash. I greet the hundred-year-old Apple tree that broke in half last summer under the weight of its own green fruit. I pay my respects to the Almond, which flowers but never sets nuts, to the six Blue Oaks reaching 30 feet into the sky, and the single scrawny Sugar Pine. I walk to the back of my studio and nod to the Little-Leaf Linden I brought in because our town is full of its sisters, flourishing here since the Gold Rush. I stand in the spot where I’d like to plant an Apricot, and wander over to the Juniper to run my hand through its prickly branches.

Some of these trees are going to live longer than I do. I may have planted a few, but I don’t own them, I’m just the custodian — glad for their shade and the rustle of wind in their leaves. I go out with my broom on snowy mornings and gently thump the ice from their limbs. I prune the crossed branches and cry if a storm brings them down.
In one of his poems, Robert Frost mentions a Witness Tree — one that marks a common lot line. On the day after Christmas, I have become the reverse: a Tree Witness: slowing my pace so I can meander through the yard and greet these steadfast companions.

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  • Jan Hersh December 28, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Thanks for reminding me of the old song of the past…I talk to the trees. I can imagine your day and would love to visit you and your trees one day.