Earth Day 2009

We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion just as effectively as by bombs.                     Kenneth Clark

The wind is blowing wildly this morning, switching from south-west to north, driving high-flying strings of geese along the length of the lake. On this, Earth Day, I am walking out to greet The Ash Trees at the End of the World. Standing at the peninsula’s tip, in the dazzle of wind and dashing waves, I lay my hand in reverence on the mossy trunk of first one ancient, immense tree, and then the second one. It would take three of me to encircle the girth of one. For hundreds of years these trees have survived, and perhaps flourished, leaning against the fierce winds that funnel the lake. I take my strength from them and their far-reaching roots.

As I turn to walk back home, in bursts of electric sun and clouds, I travel with the heartbreak of knowing these trees may not live much longer, threatened as they are by the approaching emerald ash borer. But as I walk I also rejoice in the fat ochre buds of the butternuts which thrive here, and I listen in gladness to the new sound of the wind gusting through the swelling buds of the elms. Yes elms. For every year new elm saplings spring up over and over again until, perhaps, possibly, some trees may evolve to withstand Dutch Elm Disease. Meanwhile, the buds over my head are as dancing as ever.

Rounding the corner, I pause to greet the most remarkable tree I have ever encountered. So aged is this ravaged beech that its bark is corky, rather than the smooth silver you would expect. So frail is the beech that halfway up the hollow trunk is a window to racing clouds and sun. At first glance you would say this tree was no longer alive. Indeed, all but one limb has been sheared off by age and rough weather. And yet, only look up towards the sky. One arm reaches skyward in a flourish of new twigs, tipped with coppery leaf shoots. Then look down, amid the jumble of fallen limbs. Forcing up through the rubble is a host of infant beeches, new growth from old.

Moon in the water;
Broken and broken again,
Still it is there.
Chosu

About Peri McQuay

Peri Phillips McQuay is the author of Singing Meadow: The Adventure of Creating a Country Home, The View From Foley Mountain, a book of nature meditations on her experiences living for 30 years at the Foley Mountain Conservation Area and A Wing in the Door: Life With a Red-tailed Hawk is the story of her adventures with Merak, a human-imprinted hawk, who lived free but saw McQuay and her family as her special people. Also Peri has written numerous essays, articles, book reviews and a weekly column, published in the Kingston Whig-Standard Magazine. Her credits include Country Journal, Harrowsmith, Bird Watcher’s Digest, The Snowy Egret, Seasons, The Fiddlehead, Herizons and Brick.
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