Despite the fact that our local weather folks had been warning us for days, I was surprised to wake up and find the ground covered in snow- the heavy, wet kind that breaks limbs and bends trees. It’s too early to plow (the ground is not yet frozen) and too early to really worry about shoveling (I tell myself it’s not here to stay) but the early arrival of the white stuff did prompt a little extra work on the way to the office this morning.
No big trees were down, or limbs large enough to slow my progress but the birch lined entrance into Camp looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Trees were bent so far over that their tops touched the ground-some of them, anyway. I had left home with my chainsaw ready to cut my way in, if I had to, but alas, it was not needed. Yes, I could have cut the trees and the tops that blocked my path but I knew all-too-well that if I just shook them a bit, the burden would release and the trees would start to make their way straight again. No, they may never regain the angle to the earth that they had just yesterday, but for anyone who has ever driven into the birch lined entrance at Camp knows that the cover they provide and the canopy they create is something that is, in no small way, comforting.
I am always reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, “Birches” and, like him, I prefer to imagine that these trees are bent because “some boy’s been swinging them.” And while we don’t offer, encourage or sanction “tree swinging” as a Camp activity, these trees, and the thousands of others that cover our woods, are bent both for, and by campers. Bent for them in a way that provides shelter and shade. And bent by them, not from some malicious activity, but rather by their presence. I suspect that were there no campers, there would not be so many trees. I could have just as easily cleared the path this morning with a chainsaw, and a younger version of my may well have done just so. But when I discovered that, with just a little encouragement, the trees could regain nearly all their previous stature, and still grow- both up and out, I learned to resist the urge to cut them down.
I’ve never climbed a birch tree, though I don’t suppose that Frost ever actually thought I should. Nor, do I suppose he would suggest that we have campers climb our trees, but I’d like to think that what happens here each summer would meet with his approval. “To learn about not launching out too soon” campers get to explore the precipice of childhood- that point in the climb to adulthood when the tree bends just enough to launch you into something better. Or perhaps, set you gently back down as he describes in his own imagined climb:
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than being a swinger of birches.