A Forest Perspective

           We glorify the great columns that rise from the woodland floor
To a canopy, angled and much-twigged, high above. 
And though we would know the summit of that forest,
It remains untouched, unknown, and unappreciated.
For earthbound is our human perspective,
And our traditional view of the forest is inverted.

           If the forest starts at the ground, its spirit is in the canopy.
To know that level of the forest, we must be part of it.
Just looking across the tree-tops from a window,
A rooftop or a rocky summit won’t suffice. 
Seldom can you climb a tree high enough
To be looking out over the canopy while still within it,
But on rare occasions it is possible,
    And in memory, we may return.

           Standing in the broken top of a lofty tree,
With dense new growth up to our waists,
We are immersed in the canopy, and joined with it.
All around us the second-growth trees form a tight mosaic, 
And the surface is more uniform than supposed.
The aspect is much like a great meadow
Deep in lusty plants, where cows are seen up to their bellies
In the rolling greenery.

           Here and there are islands of greater trees,
Monuments of longevity, their dark and irregular crowns
Rising above the surrounding meadows. 
They court the storms and the lightning,
And show their wounds, yet they survive. 
It is springtime, and the dark limbs of the tuliptrees
Yield to an exuberance of new leaves – a green so fair,
That were it blue, it would be the sky.


          This is a time of brief showers and warming sunlight. 
Far off, clouds rise, their shady bottoms resting
On a flat surface, real yet invisible.  
This is a vapor'd realm, where colors fade in the distance.
Indeed, this is the realm of the trees. 
Here the oaks bloom in bronzed profusion,
And the wind carries the pollen far into the hazy distance. 
Here the buds of the mockernut and the long-pointed beech
Swell day by day, until, finally, preposterous,
They open, revealing their leaves, new and perfect.


           A hawk circles on the rising air, and we think of earlier times
When chestnut pollen filled the air, and the pigeons
Flew close over the trees, in broad swirling avenues, far off, to the horizon. 
Here the swifts cut long arcs over a green ocean,
Taking insects from seemingly empty air. 
The canopy itself is not just leaves and twigs,
But a region of substance, filled with tiny birds –
Warblers and tanagers, seldom visible,
But intent on the insects spawned by the life of the trees –
The magic of leaves and sunlight, and the distant clouds.


          The days pass, and it is mid-morning in summer,
And the varied greens of springtime have become one. 
The cuckoo calls, unseen, and the shrill cicadas complain,
Warning of hotter hours yet to come. 
Perhaps there will be a thunderstorm,
And the leaves will turn over before the wind.
The trees will bend wildly; the rain will beat in great sheets,
And lightning will claim the ancient and proud. 
But the storm shall pass, and the long points of the leaves
Will draw off the wetness, drop by drop, and life will go on.


          In our imagination, we may wish that we could walk
Over this high savanna, weightless.
And so, in thought, in the bright sunlight, under an expanse of sky,
We stroll over the surface of the leaves, which are darker,
Thicker, more glossy, and more narrow than expected. 
One species after another, we reach down into the foliage,
Examining the various fruits, which exist in abundance,
As if we were hunting wild strawberries. 


          Occasionally we come to a dark void,
Perhaps still occupied by a sun-bleached trunk,
Where one of the trees has met its end. 
We stare down into the darkness, down to the cellar of the forest. 
It seems a lonely place, seemingly empty, save for the long vertical members
That hold up our leafy surroundings.  The trees do not speak of it –
It is the crypt, the resting place of the dead and the broken,
And that no longer needed. 


          We shield our eyes, and see that it is a long way –
Perhaps one hundred feet - to the bottom. 
And so, on the wings of thought, weightless,
We move slowly down, leaving the sun and clouds, and flocks of birds,
Down through the angled roof structures,
Into the ravine.


          We pass through beech and maple, pawpaw and spicebush,
To where the ferns and mosses reign in their diminutive world. 
Yes, there are other worlds here too,
       Tiny worlds in the rich soils,
Filled with innumerable life, so far and so different
From the sunlit meadows high above.


         Colby B. Rucker, May 2002