At the very end of Batchellors Forest Road, across Georgia Avenue, in the middle of the meadow that served as the front lawn for the pillared, Georgian Manor-home of Brooke Johns, stood a lone, stately, vase-like Dutch Elm tree, huge, looming, one of the very last survivors in that area of Maryland. It had managed to withstand the ravages of the European-born disease that had decimated the ranks of these elegant trees throughout the Eastern United States in the last half of the twentieth century. Its very solo status in that acres-large field of grass had probably helped prolong its dwindling lifespan by virtue of its non-proximity to wooded neighbors.
Every morning on the way to elementary school with my mother (the principal, but that’s another tale), we would get to the Georgia Avenue stop, preparing to turn right and head into OIney, and start the scholastic day ahead. Almost without fail she would repeat a few lines from her favorite poem;
“I think that I shall never see, a poem, lovely as a tree”; Joyce Kilmer.
It was perhaps this repeated moment, more than any other influence or maybe combined with many other bits of input over the years that somehow cemented my love of words, reading, and the transportational qualities that waft around good literature like the scent of old books in a library stack.
“I think that I shall never see, a poem, lovely as a tree”
Those few words enlivened me then…..and haunt me still.
One winter’s morning as we crept up the lane in a dense blanket of fog, urged forward more by rote than vision, first the stop sign reflected back to us in the headlight beams and then, across the road in the meadow, the naked form of the giant elm gently emerged with tendrils of fog clinging to its glistening black limbs like a tattered shawl on a ghostly dark skeleton.
We were spellbound together and we idled there, silent, each lost in our very personal reverie at what beauty nature was presenting us with in this shared viewable feast. I cannot remember what I thought and I do not know what my mother was thinking, we never voiced out loud this very private moment, only noting it, like ink scribbled hastily on the margins of a book before the thought is lost forever.
Now I see it as a photograph in my mind, a snapshot in time that I would now seek to capture on film to be forever gazed upon and admired. By me? By others? By no one, stashed in a dusty box and long forgotten, destined to be sorted…or not….one day in the future, and discarded as so many other memorable moments are.
But this one is crystalline in my mind still today.
I know it affected me greatly then. I wrote my own poem about it for a school project, illustrated with a picture that I drew to capture what I still saw in my child’s mind’s eye.
I wish that my mother had saved that. She saved so few things from my life back then, unlike many mother’s of her time who squirreled away every jot and iota of their child’s imagining. My mother was unique. I suppose she expected the same of me.
Sentimentality was not often on display at home although it does puzzle me that I was so affected by this shared vision on a dew-drenched morning as I know she was as well, that I was compelled to draw it, and even further, to write poetry trying, I would suppose, to capture that moment in my own small mimicry of Ms. Kilmer, her favorite.
Was I lacking in elegance and style? Unworthy of praise and remembrance? As I recall I received an “A” as a project for it. Curious. Unsolvable.
But just this morning, as I walked Bella up around the Mansion drive, way out West in Oregon where I ended up, the mists of the great northwest lurked and lingered in the forest of trees that we call home, clutching softly and with ease of purpose at the bare branches of these February trees.
My breath quickened, my mind eased, and my memory of that morning four decades or more in the past overtook me once again as it does every misty morning, and I drifted immediately back to that long gone elm on Georgia Avenue.
And there I remained for a few minutes, with my mother, she, cold as the fog outside the windshield of the car, but me, warm with the memory of a shared moment in life, even if she never shared it with me.