Thursday, December 28, 2017

art of losing: welcome to the round-up, and tree cycle

Welcome to all on this last Poetry Friday of 2017!  If you are new to our Poetry Friday tradition, please let Renee at No Water River explain it all to you, and to old friends--I greet you with virtual hugs.  You all know how valuable this community is.

At this time of year there is a tree in my house, just as there is likely a tree in yours.  Even if you are not Christian (and perhaps especially if you are pagan), you may have a a special tree residing indoors right now: cut or living, evergreen or white PVC, electrified or candlefied--and is a menorah is a tree of sorts as well?  It's my favorite thing at this time of year to come down early, switch on the lights, and come to in the glow of our indoor tree, which gives its life for our celebration of the rebirth of the sun and the hope of spring--noel noel.  I'm never tired of this poem.

[little tree] | E. E. Cummings

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see          i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look          the spangles
our little tree
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"

I have always been a tree-hugger.  This poem is from Squeeze and can be dated to approximately 1972; below is my daughter visiting the very cedar mentioned in the poem in 2006 (click here to see it on a map).

How to Run Away | Heidi Mordhorst

Take money.  Pack light.  Coast your bike
down the fastest hill in the neighborhood.
The one by the Baptist church is good.

Claim a weeping willow:  plunge through
hanging curtains to find a private room.
The swish of long leaves keeps you company.

Or lie under a cedar with triple trunks
capturing air and space above you.
Its needles make a pungent carpet.

Or climb a dense magnolia.  There are
leathery leaves to hide you from enemies,
fuzzy grenades to lob through the branches.

Then go shopping.  You don’t need much:
saltines, peanut butter, a carton of milk.
Your finger makes a perfect knife.

Now move in and build your nest.
Hang your bag on a twiggy hook.

Stay.  Eat.  Read your book.
Stay until you know they’re worried.
Stay until you miss your brother.
      Stay until the shadows cool your mood.

Then pump your book, your bag, your bike
back up that hardest hill
toward home.


I'm always watching the trees in my yard, those close by in my neighborhood, the ones across the field from my 2nd-floor classroom.  Joyce Sidman captures their essential wisdom in this poem from Winter Bees (2014)  which we can't get enough of.

What Do the Trees Know? | Joyce Sidman
Illustration by Rick Allen

What do the trees know?

To bend when all the wild winds blow.
Roots are deep and time is slow.
All we grasp we must let go.

What do the trees know?

Buds can weather ice and snow.
Dark gives way to sunlight’s glow.
Strength and stillness help us grow.


So as always I was communing pretty closely with the trees when my spouse surprised me the other morning with a report on the 80-foot tulip poplar we share with a neighbor.  "It's confirmed unhealthy and we need to take it down before it falls on our roof," she said, and there I was crying into my son's lunchbox.

Dec. 27
one of our trio of tulip trees, 18??-2018

"All we grasp we must let go All we grasp we must let go All we grasp we must let go."  I repeat
and repeat what the trees know, but this tall tulip that hugs our patio, shades our outdoor table,
drops honey-bearing nectar on us all May, that stood here long before the patio, long before
the house indeed (coincidentally born the same year as I), that stood in a wood I can
 barely imagine, unmapped, unloved, not a feature but a creature of an unpeopled
landscape—this  tall
tulip with its  straight
trunk   unlimbed   to
30  feet, is  precious
to me. I should speak
for  this  tree, save  it  
from  our ill human
meddling,  but  good
sense, this tree's own
deep-rooted  wisdom
counsels me: stillness.
Bend, give way; strength
and stillness, stillness helps us grow.

draft (c) HM 2017

May it be so with the eternal internal conflict:  when to stand strong in resistance, when to bend, when to let go?  The rooted stillness itself becomes the greatest challenge. 

But, once let go, there may be another kind of rebirth: to wit, craft worked upon the fallen tree.  My brother lost an American black walnut tree some years ago and finally reclaimed the wood in the form of several gorgeous pieces given as gifts this Christmas.  The wheel of the tree at the turning of the year.

Looking forward to seeing what portents you all have for the New Year!  Leave your link below, and as the French say, neatly avoiding any religious sentiment at all, 

meilleurs voeux a tous pour la nouvelle année!!


  1. Thanks Heidi, for this sensitive and rich post you've put together for our last Poetry Friday of this year. Dear "little tree," what a lovely poem–makes you feel good about humanity. "How to Run Away," is marvelous–wish I or my daughter knew about it before we both made our attempts. My heart goes out to you for the loss of your tulip tree, what a beautiful concrete tribute poem you've penned for your tree.

    Thanks for hosting this week, and bringing us this rich cornucopia to usher out the old year.
    Happiest of New Years to you and your family! xo

    1. Everyone needs a tree of their own, for running away to or just sitting under. Glad to have you come by, Michelle!

  2. Coincidentally, earlier today I posted about the Jackson magnolia that is deteriorating on the White House grounds in DC. So much tree sadness today. I pray that "stillness helps us grow."

    Here's a link to the Washington Post story:

    1. Oh, and a Happy New Year! (Or at least a better New Year.)

    2. Really interesting stories about the Jackson magnolia--thanks for the link!

  3. Fantastic collection of tree poems, Heidi. I need some deep-rooted wisdom.
    Thanks for hosting!

  4. I'm a goner when anyone posts e.e. cummings. This poem is a little piece of heaven! Love the other poems too, Heidi, and glad to meet a fellow tree hugger. Happy New Year!

  5. Love the thoughtfulness and insight of your poems, Heidi, especially the idea of letting go that which we grasp. E.E. Cummings' poem is also on my mind, as I was just looking at it at the library today - the picture book version of it was on display in the children's room.

    1. btw, my link doesn't go live til just after midnight! (and Thank you for hosting!)

    2. Glad you could participate this week, Tabatha, BJ, Matt! E.E. Cummings is a favorite of mine too, and I have one of the picture book versions of this poem as well. Looking for rebirth especially this year...

  6. I love these tree poems, and I am so sorry about you losing the tree in your yard. We are facing the same thing with the two silver maples in our front yard. They are dying and need to come down before they land on the roof, but I will miss them. We will replant, but it will take time for them to grow into the space. I can relate to your How to Run Away. I always ran away to trees, but I slung my bag of books/snacks/notebooks/pens on my back and climbed as high as I could. Somedays, I still want to run away and climb a tree.

    1. Yes, replant and replace, of course--but it always feels like a sad waste of 200 years of growing energy! But there are ways to recycle--my brother had a walnut tree down in his front yard, the wood "air-curing" for almost 10 years, and this month he made the wood into a series of beautiful gifts for all of us--a serving tray, tea and candle boxes, an armrest table for our sofa. Hey! I should add this to my post!

      Nice to have you come by, Kay!

  7. Heidi, your collection of tree poems remind me of the resilience of trees that beautify our world and stand tall in their stillness. This line from your concrete poem will remain with me tonight:
    ...I should speak
    for this tree, save it
    from our ill human
    meddling, but good
    sense, this tree's own
    deep-rooted wisdom
    counsels me: stillness...
    I, too, am thinking of the Christmas tree in my daughter's home but take a more human focus on what is under the tree.

    1. Yes, resilience--but also farewell. In my next life I will hope to be a dryad...

  8. Heidi, your passion for trees and the poetry they evoke within you is (pardon the pun) well rooted. Nothing better than sitting under an ancient tree in contemplative thought. Thank you for reminding me to maintain my arboreal observations.

    1. Even young trees have their inspirational powers...thanks for coming by today, Alan.

  9. What a beautiful and rich post. Thank you, Heidi. Thank you for your love for trees and all that they grasp in your world and in ours together. The poems are lovely. I specially like...

    "stay until you know they're worried.
    stay until you miss your brother"

    and,your entire response to Sidman's poem with thoughts of the Tulip Tree.

    Blessings to you and yours as we close out this year and enter the next.

    1. Thank you, Linda--it was both instructive and fun to converse with Joyce's poem as I worked on mine.

  10. Thanks for hosting today (tomorrow) Heidi! I really enjoyed your tribute to trees. This stanza from your poem snagged my attention on first-read:

    " Claim a weeping willow: plunge through
    hanging curtains to find a private room.
    The swish of long leaves keeps you company."

    How lovely! Maybe you could replace that magnolia with a willow. Hope you have a happy (and tree-filled) New Year!

    1. I do love a weeping willow, and that's actually a good idea for the spot that will be bare...glad you are stopping by this week, Violet!

  11. I adore everything about this post and all the wonderful tree tributes you've given us. Like you, I love coming downstairs first in the morning and switching the tree on -- how I treasure those moments alone in silence with the twinkling lights! It does a soul good. (PS: Your tulip tree poem is magnificent as the tree itself; I'm sorry you have to lose it.)

    1. Hi, Renee--so do we both really not look forward to January 6th when tradition tells us it should all come down? Undecorating the tree is one of the saddest moments of the year for me...

    2. I always threaten to leave it up all year, Heidi. I love those twinkling lights, so! (Also, I'm not governed by dates; the tree comes down when I'm ready, usually the end of January!) :D

  12. And then there's Tree At My Window by Robert Frost...

    Tree at my window, window tree,
    My sash is lowered when night comes on;
    But let there never be curtain drawn
    Between you and me.

    Vague dream head lifted out of the ground,
    And thing next most diffuse to cloud,
    Not all your light tongues talking aloud
    Could be profound.

    But tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
    And if you have seen me when I slept,
    You have seen me when I was taken and swept
    And all but lost.

    That day she put our heads together,
    Fate had her imagination about her,
    Your head so much concerned with outer,
    Mine with inner, weather.

    There was a crabapple outside my growing-up bedroom window, and a very special maple beyond that. We had a weeping willow that made private rooms, and there was the sycamore I fell out of back in the alley. The blue spruce that was a tiny twig when the house was first built towers over the garden. Mom and her neighbors had "Glow of Autumn" picnics under the ash. The trees of my childhood are as real in my memory as any of my human childhood friends.

    1. Oh my goodness--how have I not found this Frost poem? And oh my goodness, do you see the poem you have written in recalling your arboreal childhood friends? Thanks for participating this week, Mary Lee.

  13. Trees speak to me on some deep level and your rich post resonates. I'm so sorry about the impending loss of your tulip poplar tree. Your lovely poem offers a sort of rebirth as surely as your brother's carpentry. I love the e. e. cummings poem but that Joyce Sidman poem is like a shot to the heart. Piercing and beautiful. Thanks so much for hosting this week!

  14. Heidi -- My heart breaks for the loss of your beloved tree. When we bought our house, a giant of a maple shaded our yard and house. Sadly, when fungi started sprouting up around it's rising roots, we knew it was time. Our yard just hasn't been the same. Our teenaged Japanese Maple has big shoes to fill. You might enjoy reading Richard Higgins' Thoreau and the Language of Trees. I harvested this shape poem from the text back in May --

  15. In my yard, I am surrounded by wise old oaks. I imagine they speak to me. They hold a place in my heart, for sure. It's so hard to lose a tree, especially one that has been so significant in the landscape. Your poem is beautifully laid on the page. I love the repetition in the first and last line, that feeling of trying hard to hang on. Thanks for hosting.

  16. Heidi, I love every bit of this post! Because of our renovation project, we had no Christmas tree this year, so thank you for sharing yours (and e.e. cummings's). My childhood home was bordered by the remnants of an apple orchard. Those old, gnarled trunks were my refuge when I needed to "cool [my] mood." I'm sorry about the loss of your tulip tree, but love your tribute. Your conversation with Joyce Sidman's "What Do the Trees Know?" illuminates and extends the "deep-rooted wisdom" of all trees. If you haven't read "The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate" by Peter Wohlleben, you must. Once again, science is discovering what poets have known for ages. Thank you for hosting today!

  17. I do have a tree, and I like to look at it: shining lights, ornaments in new places, new neighbors. I like that you added your brother's walnut woodwork to your post. What beautiful things his tree became. I love the way you describe the tulip tree and your patio. That is a poem. I also love how you brought Joyce Sidman's poem into yours and used it as a mantra to remind yourself of the wisdom, even in the sea of grieving. A wonderful post, for all of us poets who love trees. I myself had three dead hemlocks to remove, and I planted three new trees, one for each of my kids. The whole first year, they each watered their tree. Each tree is thriving in our yard. We put lights on the blue spruce each winter. We placed an iron bench under the flowering pear. And the weeping cherry is as petite as my daughter, with tiny delicate flowers every spring.

  18. I shared e.e. cummings "little tree" recently, too, Heidi, a favorite. Thank you for the others, too, and I'm sorry about your tulip tree. I think what sold me on my new home is the old cottonwood tree outside my side door. I wrote a 'tree' post today too, am grateful that you've added more to my own tree love. Happy New Year!

  19. Happy New Year, Heidi! I love trees, too. I used to do a unit on trees and the forest when I taught second grade. My students wrote some wonderful tree poems. We have a big old ash tree in our back yard that we love. It provides welcome shade in the summer. It looked like we might lose it because of invasive insects a few years ago. We had it treated and trimmed...and it is still here. I am so thankful for that!

  20. Lovely, Heidi. I was just again admiring those tulips. Sorry to hear of your neighbor's resolve. Tell them that trees on roofs is what homeowner's insurance is for and to leave it alone.

  21. This post! I love every word. Your "How to Run Away" is a favorite. So perfectly childlike and how I feel sometimes as an adult too. :) What gorgeous gifts from your thoughtful brother. I am very grateful to you for hosting...for your wisdom and friendship. Happy 2018! xx

  22. Oh, how I love "How to Run Away." Thanks for reminding me of the trees I climbed as a kid--surely topics to ponder & write about!

  23. Ahh, yes. I also struggle with when to bend and when to let go. "the rooted stillness" I love your words, Heidi! These tree poems are truly reflective of what a year can yield. Thank you for hosting this last round-up of the year! Happy New Year!

  24. Trees are beautiful! Thank you for sharing, and thank you for hosting. Happy new year!

  25. Your post pulled my heartstrings today--"How to Run Away" took me back to the island of overgrown rhododendrons at King Phillips Stockade, a short bike ride from my childhood home, and the rooms I inhabited between their branches. So sorry about your tulip tree-I wrote about losing a couple of large trees a few weeks back on my blog, and am still missing the red oak that greeted me every morning. A happy new year to you, Heidi.


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!