Family Trees

oak-trees-on-drivewayFamily Trees I

A pair of oak trees
towering over the driveway,
marking home and safety,
guarding family and farm.

Our oak trees have been there forever,
before me,
before Mother and Dad,
before Grandma and Grandpa even.

Great-Grandpa cut down trees,
making pasture for cows,
clearing fields to plant,
splitting wood to warm the winter nights.

Grandpa taught us the names of trees:
elm, boxelder, birch, poplar, weeping willow,
aspen, ash, pine, spruce, sumac, fir, maple, oak,
and swamp willow,
his name for any tree he didn’t know.

Johnny Appleseed,
my parents told us,
planted trees for the future
for generations,
for other people to harvest.

Plant trees,
they taught us, and
schools, unions, co-ops, churches, children,
communities of caring,
for the future,
for generations,
for other people to harvest.

Eventually,
we planted a new forest
in the pasture,
holding the hillside above the river,
new/old home for deer and fox and turkeys
and all of us.

Family Trees II

Grandpa and Great-Grandpa
cleared the land for planting.
Trees were an obstacle to farming,
and also wood to warm the winter.
“Wood warms you two times,”
Grandpa said,
“when you split it and when you burn it.”

Riding her pony through the woods,
my aunt’s braids caught up in the trees,
held tight until my father freed her.

In those same woods, we played
pirates,
cowboys,
hunters,
everything we could dream.

First with guns,
my brothers hunted those woods
bringing home squirrels
that taste like chicken.
Later with bows,
they hunted deer
throughout the season,
and afterwards left corn standing in the field
to get wild creatures through the winter.

My parents planted
apple trees,
plums,
cherries,
useful trees.

I planted a birch tree for Mother’s birthday,
a pine tree to remember Kathy,
a slip of a white pine
given to first-graders on Arbor Day
brought home by my bright-eyed daughter
now towering taller than our house.

My brother and his wife plant trees by the forest-full,
thousands, tens of thousands,
pine and spruce and balsam
papery birch and fiery maple

In St. Paul, the city said no –
I could not plant a tree on the boulevard.
They forgot to tell the trees.
Maples came, like weeds.
An acorn sprouted,
and today that oak stands taller than my head.

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