When I was a little girl, we had square brown music box with a picture of a boy and girl on the front. When I pulled the string, a lovely little tune played as the string wound back into the box. It hung in our laundry room and I would often pull it as I went though there into the garage. I remember my mother telling me the song was called Trees. She had a sheet music version of it and would often sing it in her beautiful soprano voice.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
This sweet and sentimental poem was first published in 1913 and quickly became popular and subsequently turned into an equally sweet and sentimental song. I remember seeing the author’s name on the music, Joyce Kilmer, a unique name for a man. This poet, theologian and orator’s life was tragically cut short in World War 1 at the age of 31. Joyce lived a full life in such a short time, leaving many writings and a family of five children. He was on his way to becoming an influential theologian but is best remembered for his deeply spiritual poem about trees.
This classic poem came alive for me last week as I went for a hike in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina, a portion of the Natahala National Forest dedicated to Joyce’s memory. The trail is a couple of hours from my house and some of my dear hiking friends and I headed there on a cool and misty November morning. It is a long and very curvy journey through the mountains on the infamous “Tail of the Dragon” – a stretch of road 11 miles long with 318 curves and greatly loved by motorcyclists from around the world. But this day we were the only ones on the slick road covered with downed branches from the previous night’s storm. It is a beautiful drive with vistas of the Smoky Mountains, lakes surrounded by mountains, and lots of beautiful trees.
The Joyce Kilmer Memorial is a small section of remaining old-growth forest, many of the trees are exceptionally tall for this part of the country. There is a delightful two-mile loop over a couple of streams and along mossy rocks to the quiet giants that were much older than Joyce’s poem and had probably looked at God all day for a couple of centuries. During the hike we had a few glimpses of blue sky but mostly the forest was shrouded in the mists of winter. I took my time and enjoyed the childhood memories of the music box and my mother singing. Nothing makes me happier than a wander through trees, no matter the season or the weather. The great cathedral of nature becomes a living prayer.
I never like leaving the forest, but it was time for lunch, so we all happily went up the road to Tapoco Lodge, which was all decked in Christmas spirit. Warmed by a fire and hot cider, we had a wonderful lunch and then headed back through the 318 curves to our homes. It was a delightful day and a wonderful adventure and that really embodied the spirit of the Christmas season. Joyce gave the ultimate sacrifice but left behind words of joy as his living legacy.
Gemmi sleeping under the library tree
This, the darkest time of year, we bring living trees into our home to bring light in the darkness, evergreen life into our lives to remind us that the sun will come back. Decorated and sparkling trees become the center of the celebration of life, family and joy. Over the years I have added many Christmas trees to my house so that I can have the glowing light in every corner of the front of my house to beckon my friends and family who visit for the holidays. First thing in the morning, I light the tree in the warm family room and the candles in the kitchen to bring a soft glow for my morning coffee and warm snuggles with the cats. This is my little kitten Gemmi’s first Christmas and she is delighted with the endless supply of toys hanging from the tree. Joyce’s poem about trees maybe sentimental but it speaks of the joy we a carry in our hearts this time of year as we gather round the evergreen trees of Christmas.
A Dickens’ Christmas Carol themed post on my new blog—go to www.thetimelesstarot.com