solitary oak

Solitary Oak . . . A signature species of Eastern North America.

While out on a trek through scattered-tree grassland, there
are few things as beautiful as an encounter with a massive,
solitary oak. This is true any time of year, but perhaps
even more so towards the end of Fall, when they've let
go of the last of their dull, earthy-brown leaves. (For me,
the color of those leathery leaves is the color of the
beginning of winter.) Now the tree reveals to us pure
structure, essence, like when a sound becomes so slow
and so deep that we begin to hear its inner choir of
snowflakes-at-night, sparkling, overtones.

Some years ago, I composed a little autumn poem that
ends with an image of such an oak. I don't know quite what
to think of it now, but I still somethimes hear it in my mind's
ear as I walk along, so I thought I'd share it with you here.
Its original title was
Deru, a Proto-Indoeuropean root
for many contemporary words which refer to the qualities
of constancy and truth. (One can hear it in the sound: tree>
trust>truth>betroth: or in Dutch, trouw>trouwen: and in
German, treu>treu bleiben, etc.)

Oak: It is indeed a powerful image. Perhaps even more so in
an era that likes to flatter itself with such doubtful platitudes
as "Change is the only constant"  I can think of few greater
gifts to pass on to a child than the love for (read here:--a true
relationship) with an already ancient tree, a tree that was
here before they were born, and will hopefully be there
after they, too, pass on:

Like An Oak

Fear folds into our bodies
like the great west wind
twists into the trunks of trees.

Hurt upon hurt folds in upon itself,
slowly turning tighter, then fracturing
into all those lines going nowhere, our
faces telling the story of stories never lived.

This leaning back—further and further
of limbs misshapen, no longer able
to carry this heavy burden.

What, who is pulling us down like this?
Surely, the body wears out, but what
of the beauty of autumn?

Frozen within these self-protective walls,
these little factories of fear
we've built around ourselves,
cut-off from the you, the world,
the branch covered with layer upon layer
of a long winter's ice
finally says, "no, no longer"
and breaks.

This we must know:—to stand alone
in the open field
like the solitary oak,

   exposed, steadfast in movement . . .

n a k e d  on all sides.

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(Photograph was made Saturday, the 30th of November 2002)

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Photograph by Cliff Crego © 2002