Trees have been called living poems. Their shapes compared to alphabets that capture the voice of spirit and sky, encompass the language that bridges earth and heaven.
Though I’ve mentioned it twice before, it bears repeating. The Garden Club in Ipswich has organized a service to celebrate the long life, old age and passing of the American elm tree at the corner of East and County. It weathered decades beyond the coming and going of Dutch Elm disease, an infestation that decimated virtually all elms in the North American landscape. Now the tree’s own natural life cycle has come to a close.
The vibrancy of the elm, which attempted to bud in early spring, is gone. Slipped away after one final season of sap running and rising. It cannot produce foliage, its branches are grey and bare in the green season of summer.
On Tuesday afternoon in our town, the public is invited to come and reflect on this remarkable tree. It has been, as Rev. Rebecca Pugh told us on Sunday, the minor character in the writing of John Updike, the subject of countless landscape paintings by artists such as Caleb Stone, the silhouette in photographs by visual artists, and the inspiration for songs by musicians such as Orville Giddings. Participants may hear and see some of this work inspired by the elm tree during the service.
Interestingly, our older daughter Sarah once spoke up, at the age of six, during an Ipswich Selectmens’ Meeting. She asked to save a large maple tree on Central Street. Back then, due to a misunderstanding by the engineers who didn’t believe the tree’s robust dimensions as reported by the surveyor, it was in danger of being cut down to make way for road improvements. People still remembered her passionate childhood plea to save a tree’s life, over twelve years ago.
Now Sarah has been asked to participate in the service for the elm. She will help, along with many others, to commemorate the tree’s going, before it is actually cut down by the town. Likely she’ll sing some verses from Hallelujah.
Meanwhile, I have wandered among the words of many philosophers and poets, seeking more language to express the grandeur of the elm’s life and the dignity of its death by old age.
In the end, I wondered what stories the elm itself might tell, if it could? Perhaps it would pass along one dreamy lesson, as poetess Kristine O’Connell George imagines in the poem below.
Old Elm Speaks
It is as I told you, Young Sapling.
It will take
autumns of patience
before you snag