One year after the shutdown began in March 2020: I think about the craziest things when I take my daily long walks but I think earth’s the right place for love. Honesty, I am filled with this sentiment as I wander around the U.S. Capitol Grounds in the morning. To give you an idea about my disconnected and disjointed ideas—why do squirrels run lateral across two trees? Why does the mallard duck like to turn upside down in the water? How did the oak grow a cancerous bump on its trunk?
A particular fascination for me is the “tree hollow” which is a semi-enclosed cavity that naturally forms in the tree trunk. I see this tree hole as a form of sculpture shaped by nature’s elements—wind, rain, heat, cold, lightening and fire.
Tree hollows lure me into reverie of Tolkien homes where elfin spirits live. When I gaze up at the 70-foot hulking oak that stretches its long roots across the surface of the green lawn, I imagine the parade of little people who travel from their miniature tree house to explore the world at night. I know that earth’s the right place for love.
Did you read the set of books about The Borrowers written by Mary Norton as a child? The series was a treasured addition to our family’s library when my son and daughter were in elementary school. We loved to imagine the “tiny world” behind the world of the “human beans” for the Clock family. The tiny folks consist of Homily, Pod and their 14-year-old daughter Arrietty who live underneath the kitchen floor of an English manor house. Disaster for them is not a pandemic but rather being caught by Great Aunt, the cook or certain pets.
Standing at the base of the towering oak, I can imagine a colony of cousins for the Clock family living in a knot hole. They would be the adventurers, the colonizers, the frontier folk who slip out into the world through the Borrowers’ passageway—a secret hole below the wainscot of the Grandfather Clock in the Great Hall.
Escaping Their Universe
So I can picture the Borrowers scurrying like mice along the border of the floor, slipping behind a door to quake less discovered, then climbing a curtain string to heave themselves into a window ledge and escape outdoors. I am not quite sure how they might climb a tree trunk to hide inside their new forest home in a tree hollow but I know such clever folk would find a way.
While I am sad to report that I did not see any “little people” scurrying back into their tree homes—even when I come looking at sunrise—I like imagine their home. I think they use the slick leaf from the magnolia tree as a carpet. Acorns function as recliner chairs. They use twigs as brooms. They turn branches into outdoor porches.
During this pandemic, we have been forced to rely on our imagination as a form of entertainment. Many of us in the Mid Atlantic states are now pass the one month mark for “stay in shelter” orders. In D.C., Mayor Marion Bowser extended it to May 15.
Exercise is my only escape from the tedium of self-isolation. Getting outside in the fresh air makes my spirits soar. I can commune with the flowers, birds and trees. So I set aside my worries for the world and indulge in a momentary respite from the never-ending painful news. It is escapism but I think we have to strengthen our hearts as well as minds for what is ahead. There is no magical day when life returns to normal.
Time of Plague
We are living in the time of the plague. The outdoors can seem menacing. An invisible monster stalks the elderly and health-compromised among us. The United States leads the world in the number of COVID-19 deaths. It is no surprise that we feel overwhelmed and confused.
I think our bodies as well as our minds are growing “tree knots,” which are scabs that form on the tree trunks in times of stress. And one day after a vaccine is discovered and the pandemic is under control, we will look on these “burls” as symbols of strength as well as exquisite beauty.
So I leave you with an excerpt of a poem by Robert Frost. He tells the story of a boy who is left alone to entertain himself after he finishes his chores. Since he’s too far from town to learn baseball, his only play is what he finds himself. So he takes to swinging on the tree limbs, riding them over and over, to subdue them.
Robert Frost Poem
In the final section of this Birches poem, Frost begins to fantasize about his momentary escape by climbing a tree. And I urge you to get away from this virus this weekend, go walk in the woods and—momentarily—get away from it all.
“I’d like to get away from earth awhileAnd then come back to it and begin over.May no fate willfully misunderstand meAnd half grant what I wish and snatch me awayNot to return. Earth’s the right place for love:I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,And climb black branches up a snow-white trunkToward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,But dipped its top and set me down again.That would be good both going and coming back.One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”—Robert Frost