A Poem for Two Trees
I studied the topographical map once
To find out the secret of the two big trees
In the lower yard. They were the permanent
Things about that piece of land our house
Had stood on for more than one hundred years.
The two acres peaked at 480 feet above sea level
And dipped in the lower yard 220 feet. The trees
Stood in the lower yard. Beyond was the pond
that fed our well. It was more than 20 feet deep.
This was in north Greenwich. The land was surveyed
By a team of Yale surveyors in 1948. I printed
The map off Google, enlarged it
So I could make out the scribbles and waves.
A topographical map can make you dizzy
When you don’t know what you are doing
Like one of those trick painting in bars
That shows you one face or the other, depending.
When the survey was made the land was farmed
Bare of trees, open for miles to the north and west.
The men would have been in teams of four, I think.
Sturdy men in weathered coats peering through lens
Calculating the ebb and flow of the earth
Transmuting the numerical summations in free drawn
Lines that pulsate in their aggregation. Show me
What is unique about this land, I asked the paper,
That would let these two trees stake such a claim.
They are going to be there beyond me.
Unless I decide to chop them down.
What I imagine is their story could come to an end
With a phone call and a cleared check. Crunch.
They don’t have a story though. They are trees.
One is a big pine that sprouted up in the stone wall
At the foot of the yard. The other is an American Chestnut
That spreads its boughs wide by the old machine shed.
You can’t put tracing paper on the earth and draw out
The mystery like you could on old graves once.
(Of course now, you can trace the earth with a high density
Satellite photo and the gravestones are burned clear.)
That’s something about the story of the trees. I write that down
Next to some calculations I’ve conjured up. An estimate
of the progressive decline of a broad low valley
That starts 25 miles and 500 feet higher north.
A wind that starts at 10 miles an hour should accumulate
Additional velocity at a rate of 2 miles per hour
Until, just a mile northwest of my yard, that wind roars
At double the speed. I don’t know physics but like my math.
The big pine is 110 feet tall, ratty and uneven in the branches,
but slender and straight. The chestnut is thick and lush.
Why doesn’t the wind that rattles down the valley
Beat the dickens out of these two trees?
I remember using a protractor in fourth grade and getting
High marks so I get a ruler and a piece of string. My map
Is scarred with notations and lines. I am postulating the arc
Of the wind. A half-mile to the west the land rises
About 20 feet, driving the wind up and smack into the side
Of our house high on the ridge. In storms the wind yells,
The house creaks, windows rattle until the bully battle
Desists and races down the long hill to the Sound.
I stand under the trees one windy night. The air
Is calm. The trees sway. On the west ridge the oaks
Thrash in a frenzy. This is why the trees have prospered.
But I live up on the top of the hill in the path of the wind.
My lot is to caulk the crevices to keep the mad passions
Of the wind out, not to disrupt the fortunate choices
Of two old trees out of annoyance and spite.