2017, Virgin, Utah (Rural)
Monkeys once flew over stunted juniper trees. I squint into the rosette of a setting sun and etch to memory the squared-lines of a mesa that had served as an Air Force Base in southern Utah. I never saw the monkeys who tested ejection seats after WWII, but I saw the gnarled desert trees.
Trees-rings mark my memories.
2016, Coeur D’Alene National Forest, Idaho (Wilderness)
Beyond tall pines squats a vault toilet. I have none of my own but a pressing need to use it. Between me and the trees, an angry bull moose swings his antlers. If I crap my pants before he stomps me to death will they think I was scared? Being homeless terrifies me more than a blustering forest moose. “Haw!” I shout, and he runs off to the river willows. I make it to the vault in time.
On other days, I squat behind the trees.
2012, Elmira Pond, Idaho (Rural)
Tamarack pines tower over 120 feet tall. Throughout their life-cycle, they reach for heaven but plunge into spring-fed pools instead. Eventually, their wood breaks down, and they form peat in the boggy ground. Thousands of years go into this cycle. On the edge of the tamaracks, the peat bog flashes like a signal-mirror to passing migrant waterfowl. I have moved to this paradise after 14 years in the suburbs. I’m out west again. Freedom!
Like the tamarack, I don’t see the fall coming.
2006, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Suburbs)
It’s ridiculous that I’m paying $70 for a balsamic fir Christmas tree. I long to poach a tree at night from the forest like we did in Montana.
I don’t have much to say about trees in the suburbs.
1996, Elk Horn, Montana (Abandoned Mining Town)
Kate maneuvers her van over potholes and exposed boulders as we wind our way up to 6,600 feet in elevation. It’s not as high up as where I lived from age seven to eighteen. But the view over the tops of the forest trees to the Boulder Valley below is magnificent. I’m researching a story I’ll never finish. As Kate and I trace our finger across weathered granite gravestones, we fail to consider our own mortality.
We think there will always be trees and time to write.
1986, Wolf Creek, California (Wilderness Area)
My dad is taking me and my fiancé fishing up Wolf Creek. Buckaroos-turned-lumberjacks like to tell stories. He tells my fiancé how we were driving up this rugged two-track five years earlier talking about the growing mountain lion population. My dad recounted how he responded that lynx were in these Jeffry Pines, but we’d never see them. He then laughed and finished up the story about how a lynx ran right across the two-track. “It happened right here,” he said as we turned the corner.
And a lynx ran out of the trees. Again.
1976, Hope Valley, California (Wilderness Area)
Twenty miles into the wilderness past the resort my great-aunt and her husband Milt ran, my Dad logged. He grew up on ranches across Nevada and California, a rambling buckaroo existence. He hung up his spurs and took on a chainsaw. We lived in logging camps in the summer, but my Mom ran a store in the small mountain town below so every morning we’d leave the forest. This morning my Dad stayed in the camp trailer bed with a herniated disc and a bandaged head from a widow-maker – the dead top of a tall white pine that snaps when a tree is felled, often killing the sawyer below. Dad lived but herniated his back. Now Mom leans in to kiss him goodbye. Crunch…she steps on his only pair of glasses.
They say bad tidings come in threes.
Like the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria. My Dad once showed me a tree he felled, and we counted the rings back to when Christopher Columbus invaded America. Trees keep the record. And I’m certain they have better memories than I do. But I keep the heart of the stories alive. Me and trees, we have had many high times and healing together.