Friday, September 4, 2015

The seeds of stress

The oaks around the house (bur, red and white) have been dropping increasing numbers of acorns over the past several weeks. We've noticed the neighborhood whitetails nibbling at them for a couple of weeks already, at least, that's what I assume they've been eating under the oak trees. Sometimes "early" acorn drop is a sign of stress. Today's StarTribune has a story about the color changes in in some maple leaves and whether it's related to stress. I've been noticing widespread changes in both maples and sumacs. Makes me wonder if there's something to worry about going on that's affecting the oaks, maples and sumacs, or if we're just looking at the affects of the volatility in our Summer weather. Since we have a number of whitetails, turkeys, squirrels and too many chipmunks that feed on local acorns, I hope it's nothing serious.

bur oak, late October
bur oak, late October
Photo by J. Harrington

red oak, late October
red oak, late October
Photo by J. Harrington

white oak, late October
white oak, late October
Photo by J. Harrington

Speaking of serious, I'm writing this while waiting for a service advisor at a Subaru dealership. Yesterday, the coolant from my wagon ended up all over the garage floor. I hope it's just a failed hose and nothing more serious. That explains today's abbreviated posting. Don't forget though that there's nothing in the appearance of an acorn to provide a hint of the oak it can grow into.

Stump

By Donald Hall 
1.

Today they cut down the oak.   
Strong men climbed with ropes   
in the brittle tree.
The exhaust of a gasoline saw   
was blue in the branches.

The oak had been dead a year.
I remember the great sails of its branches   
rolling out green, a hundred and twenty feet up,   
and acorns thick on the lawn.
Nine cities of squirrels lived in that tree.

Yet I was happy that it was coming down.   
"Let it come down!" I kept saying to myself   
with a joy that was strange to me.
Though the oak was the shade of old summers,   
I loved the guttural saw.


       2.

By night a bare trunk stands up fifteen feet   
and cords of firewood press
on the twiggy frozen grass of the yard.
One man works every afternoon for a week   
to cut the trunk gradually down.

Bluish stains spread through the wood   
and make it harder to cut.
He says they are the nails of a trapper   
who dried his pelts on the oak
when badgers dug in the lawn.

Near the ground he hacks for two days,   
knuckles scraping the stiff snow.
His chain saw breaks three teeth.
He cannot make the trunk smooth. He leaves   
one night after dark.


       3.

Roots stiffen under the ground
and the frozen street, coiled around pipes and wires.   
The stump is a platform of blond wood   
in the gray winter. It is nearly level
with the snow that covers the little garden around it.   
It is a door into the underground of old summers,   
but if I bend down to it, I am lost   
in crags and buttes of a harsh landscape   
that goes on forever. When snow melts   
the wood darkens into the ground;   
rain and thawed snow move deeply into the stump,   
backwards along the disused tunnels.


       4.

The edges of the trunk turn black.   
In the middle there is a pale overlay,   
like a wash of chalk on darkness.
The desert of the winter
has moved inside.
I do not step on it now; I am used to it,   
like a rock, or a bush that does not grow.

There is a sailing ship
beached in the cove of a small island   
where the warm water is turquoise.
The hulk leans over, full of rain and sand,   
and shore flowers grow from it.
Then it is under full sail in the Atlantic,   
on a blue day, heading for the island.

She has planted sweet alyssum
in the holes where the wood was rotten.
It grows thick, it bulges
like flowers contending from a tight vase.   
Now the stump sinks downward into its roots   
with a cargo of rain
and white blossoms that last into October. 


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