A Dream of Trees

A Dream of Trees by Mary Oliver

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees,

A quiet house, some green and modest acres

A little way from every troubing town,

A little way from factories, schools, laments.

I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,

With only streams and birds for company,

To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.

And then it came to me, that so was death,

A little way away from everywhere.

There is a thing in me still dreams of trees.

But let it go. Homesick for moderation,

Half the world’s artists shrink or fall away.

If any find solution, let him tell it.

Meanwhile I bend my heart toward lamentation

Where, as the times implore our true involvement,

The blades of every crisis point the way.

I would it were not so, but so it is.

Who ever made music of a mild day?

When Oliver talks about a “dream of trees” I don’t think she is  necessarily talking about a place physically so much as she is psychologically – the one where Barbara Bush wants to go so that she doesn’t have to mess up her “beautiful mind.” But, as the poem so powerfully says, “And then it came to me, that so was death, a little way away from everywhere.”

We would do well to remember that we who are “bending our hearts toward lamentation” are participating in a fierce kind of living. Its the kind of living that bears witness to what is happening in the world – even when what is happening is excruciatingly painful. And we engage where we can to do what we can. The times, indeed, do “implore our true involvement” and “the blades of every crisis point the way.”

I think about those awful interviews on TV when folks are trying to canonize a person who has died. They usually say something like “he/she loved life.” They usually mean the person was happy and bubbly. Well, I think those of us who are in this struggle are the ones who are demonstrating a real love of life – by not distancing from the difficult, but diving right in and getting our hands dirty while trying to make a difference.

I have frankly never understood the tendency we see in our culture today to avoid the tough issues in life – or to gloss them over with superficiality. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to know…ask questions…try to understand…and try to help. And when others think there’s something wrong with me because of that – I don’t get the point. Perhaps there is something wrong with me. But as Oliver implies, who’s making the music these days??



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    • RiaD on January 21, 2008 at 23:54

    very very fine…

  1. I could have gone on and on with the music. I just had to stop somewhere. In case you don’t recognize any of these, they are:

    Pink Floyd – On the Turning Away

    Johnny Clegg – Asimbonanga

    Dixie Chicks – I Hope

    Bruce Springsteen – Eyes on the Prize

    Carlos Santana – Migra

    Stevie Wonder – Free

    • Edger on January 22, 2008 at 00:36

    Some of them look happy, their branches look like arms reaching up for the sun. Some of them look like they are amused at humans, some thoughtful, some like children, others like old men. Some have a lot of “presence” and look strong, others like they’re barely able to continue being trees, like it’s too much work for their spirit. They’re sort of like people….

  2. The poet seems to be calling for a complete and total immersion in the chaos of the heart, doesn’t she?

  3. Photobucket

    Lucuma fruit

    There is a lucuma tree at a place called Wilka Ti’ka near Urubamba, in the Sacred Valley of Peru, that is about 1200 years old.  It has a dozen large burls on its trunk; each burl supposedly takes a century to form.  And best of all, after all that time it still bears sweet fruit, lucuma fruit, the locals make into desserts.

    Before I saw this tree, I had never seen a lucuma fruit.  I sat under the tree to meditate, but I couldn’t keep from staring up at its high branches where there was fruit and hoping that just one fruit would fall so that I could touch it.  I hadn’t ever touched anything that carried 1200 years of life within it.

    Eventually, I managed to focus on my breathing. After a while, I heard the wind and then I heard a fruit fall on the ground next to me.  It was yellow and shiny and had a hard outside.  It was about the size of a tennis ball.

    At first I wondered what thoughts would make fruit fall from the sky.  But then I realized I was wrong about that.  It had nothing to do with me.  The fruit was the earth’s grace and the tree’s bounty.  And this tree’s fruit had fallen for more than a millennium.

    • kj on January 22, 2008 at 15:49

    I want to stay in this wilderness all morning, all day, despite Bruce singing that he stayed too long.

    I want to talk about buying a bus and all of us dropping everything and going to the Gulf Coast (much like Robyn did after Martin died) and working on the devastation after Katrina.

    I want there to be ‘no more turning away from the weak and the weary.’

    But, I have to go now.

    • Edger on January 23, 2008 at 02:14

    “Grants Pass, Ore. (AP) – Physicist Ed Wagner says he has found evidence that trees talk to each other in a language he calls W-waves.

    “If you chop into a tree, you can see that adjacent trees put out an electrical pulse,” said Wagner. “This indicates that they communicated directly.”

    “Explaining the phenomenon, Wagner pointed to a blip on a strip chart recording of the electrical pulse.

    “It put out a tremendous cry of alarm,” he said. “The adjacent trees put out smaller ones.” …..

    “People have known there was communication between trees for several years, but they’ve explained it by the chemicals trees produce,” Wagner said.

    “But I think the real communication is much quicker and more dramatic than that,” he said. “These trees know within a few seconds what is happening. This is an automatic response.”

    “Wagner has measured the speed of W-waves at about 3 feet per second through the air.

    “They travel much too slowly for electrical waves,” he said. “They seem to be an altogether different entity. That’s what makes them so intriguing. They don’t seem to be electromagnetic waves at all.”

    People also talk to trees…

    I Talk to the Trees

    Based on a passage from Gerry Spence’s book: “From Freedom to Slavery”.

    By George Knowles

    Alone we struggled from the womb, and alone we float down the inescapable river of life. Alone we face the falls, the horrible falls, where alone we shall wheeze out our last mortal gasp.  I looked out the window then at a slender elm tree alone in the garden, and something compelled me to walk out to it.  Suddenly I wanted to talk to a tree.  

    To talk to a tree is strange, is it not?  Yet no one thinks it odd for man to speak to something he cannot see or touch, something he calls “God”.  No one thinks it bizarre that we listen too and are impelled into strange actions, like buying a certain soft drink because of an image on TV, something we cannot touch.  Yet if we were to shake hands with a tree, something real with its roots in the ground, something that lives, grows, and rustles in the wind, something in which living birds nest and hatch their young.  If we were to touch a tree and to speak to it, we might be considered very peculiar indeed.  The tyranny of viewpoint, most often not our own, constricts us as surely as a horse’s hobbles.  

    The Indians thought it ordinary to communicate with animals, plants and trees.  Walking Buffalo of the Stony Indians Tribe in Canada said, “did you know that trees talk?  They talk to each other and they’ll talk to you if you listen.  I have learned a lot from trees, something about the weather, something about animals, and something about the Great Spirit.”

    I’m sure that my neighbours would have thought me quite daft had they seen me talking to this tree.  But I was alone, and alone one has the right by that reason, to do as one pleases.  Alone one is free, or ought to be, and so I thought, I shall see how it is to speak to a tree.

    • OPOL on January 23, 2008 at 17:20

    with hearts bent toward lamentation.

    Heady stuff.

    Thanks NL.

    • kj on January 23, 2008 at 18:32

    to get back here to this lovely wilderness, listened to “Eyes on the Prize” and “The Turning Away” at least five times this morning. And these lines of Mary Oliver’s:

    To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.

    Who ever made music of a mild day?

    just blow me away.

    What I see here, in this essay, and at this particular blog, is “Call and Response” in full glory.  I mean, the response to a call is equally as important as the call itself.  All over here I see calls and response and then more calls from the responses.  I don’t know where we’re going or what exactly is being built, but whatever it is, it seems strong and deeply rooted.

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