Friday, March 13, 2009


Our home sits on the bones of the trees.
Behind, a few still stand
in memory of the fallen ones,
and for these brave few, we moved here.

Each year, they cast upon the lawn
remembrance wreaths of poplar, sticky
bud-cases and seeds like snow. Each year,
the rotary mower cleaves the tender seedlings
who dared to hope to reclaim the yard
in one last desperate attempt at reforestation.

Beyond this small and delicate row
stood a nest of woods, keen and ripe
infested with squirrels, mosquitoes,
songbirds and other joyful squatters.
That first summer that we lived here
a developer came and tore those woods apart,
site cleanup
scraped down to the raw clay-earth,
then spent two years pouring concrete.

All would be eternally urban and grey,
but the City required some saplings;
so just days before the first frost of autumn
the builders brought in a tender sample
of deciduous Europeans, pale and thin,
hardly dressed for the oncoming blast of winter.

How would they do, how would they fare?
I hoped they could persist and send
their soft green shoots, sweet signs of hope
towards the sun in springtime.
But stepping out the door this day,
I encountered a terrible sight:
these newcomers, tall sticks in the snow,
sat smashed atop a crumpled white rise
created by a snowplough
having served their purpose, their obligation
to permit the City inspectors to tick the box,


Our home sits on the bones of the trees.
Behind, a few still stand
in memory of the fallen ones.
Each year, they cast upon the lawn
remembrance wreaths of poplar, sticky
bud-cases and seeds like snow.

Rachel Westfall
March 11, 2009


Faith said...

Hi Rachel:)
There is such a struggle with the trees:( It is so hard to watch this type of destruction. Even on a small scale. Our neighbor last year wanted to take down a beautiful Box Elder to build a garage -- He didn't have to take the tree down...but it was "in the way". We were lucky, the town sided with us on this one. If it hadn't, I think my daughter was ready to chain herself to the tree:)

Here is a poem that came to me while reading yours:

Sometimes I dream
the knotted roots rising.
I dream the cracked sidewalks,
earth showing through
and the leaves falling to make more
and more and no one
touches this place
and the seeds fall down
winging their way in a fall breeze
more and more
the stress they have felt
gives way to birth
and new growth
and I dream the tidy
yards left untidy
and the deer coming from the hill
finding the soft bark
of viburnum and
pagoda dogwood
the blueberry bushes...
sometimes I dream we
just let go let go
and let be.
And there
knotted, grown and wild
we find the life we need.

RachelW said...

Faith, your poem is so beautiful, it gives me the shivers. I'm so glad you won and saved the Box Elder. I planted one in my yard two summers ago, Acer negundo, on a rootstock hardy enough to survive in Zone 2. She is just a sapling now, not much taller than me, but she will be a glorious grand tree one day, probably when my grandchildren are grown. :)

Murray said...

The clear-cut mentality that has become so pervasive in Whitehorse is appalling. Often it's trees and wetlands that vanish but it's also our historic buildings that are being bulldozed by developers squeezing every last buck out of a piece of property, with the duplicity of all orders of government (think WalMart, The Shipyards and "FireSmart").

Catvibe said...

Rachel this breaks my heart with a sound like the snap of a twig underfoot. We big clumsy humans seem to show no mercy where money and development are concerned.

One day, the trees may have their long awaited return as the dominant species. Until then, they will take our furious and abusive neglect in with their lungs, and keep trying to feed us the oxygen we need to breathe. I only hope we learn before they are no longer able to sustain us.

Robert said...

Man's destruction of natural things is well documented through the years..the sad part is not enough people pretest it..I'm glad you wrote this

Woman in a Window said...

I cry for trees. I cry when they are lost. I cry when they grow. I guess I cry a lot. These words, moved me.

Kyddryn said...

Sister of my soul, I offer you a balm: Where my mother built her cabin, some dozen-plus years ago, she cut no tree, not one, but built around, behind, beside, and planted some more for good measure.

I often fantasize about people who develop like that, all unconcerned for their devastation...that they get asthma, emphysema, COPD, something that teaches them (with a hammer upside the head...lungs...whatever) the value of oxygen. Or skin cancer, that they learn too late how beneficial shade can be.

Shade and Sweetwater,
K (who isn't all sweetness and light, it seems

christopher said...

Take That Tall Bush Out

That evergreen bush
at the corner of our porch,
you said, "Take it out."
It lived long right there
and I trimmed it every
year so carefully,
but you wanted light,
daylight at the door. When I
took the first hard cut

I started to cry.

RachelW said...

Murray, I agree, it is appalling. Other cities have taken measures to protect trees. I wonder why that hasn't happened here? I hope some people who care about the natural spaces and wild creatures will run for city council.

Cat, I like you you put that very much. I couldn't agree more.

Robert, yeah we've got to rant and rave, then one gets labelled as just another tree-hugging lunatic, but oh well! ;)

Erin, now I feel like crying! ;)

Kyddryn, that's so lovely, about your mother's cabin. I'm glad she did that. She sounds like my kind of human.

Christopher, oh! And now I am crying some more... what a sad, but very human story.

Karen said...

Your poem tells the heartbreaking story of what THEY call progress. I watched out my office window as THEY pushed over a huge poplar with a bulldozer. Building a parking lot seems more important to them than respecting the land that was there long before they dreamed of concrete.
I can hardly stand to look out that window nowadays.

Lisa said...

we have such strong rules here regarding trees, which is wonderful. I havent been to your site for a day or two and am only now catching up- i miss my daily dose of rachel xx

Kyddryn said...

As I was readying some soil yesterday (seeds to plant, seeds to scatter, Spring, Spring, Spring!!), I remembered something else...we never cut down without planting. In the past, present and future, when we cut a tree for whatever reason, we plant one or two or as many as we can to replace what we've taken, something to give the tree-spirit a home and to make amends for putting our want/need above its living presence.

If developers HAD to do that, HAD to consider the life they are taking, HAD to give the spirit a new place, I bet they wouldn't be so keen to chop, chop, chop...

Shade and Sweetwater,

RachelW said...

Karen, some progress, eh? What would it take to build a parking lot *around* that beautiful tree? Think how much nicer a parking lot would be if there was a shade spot here and there. This kind of thing upsets me so much, like you, I can hardly bear to look at it.

Lisa, I'm glad your tree protections are strong. I've lived places where they are a lot stronger than here, and it sure makes a difference.

Kyddryn, good point. They wouldn't be so quick to take out the trees if they knew they had to replace each and every one.

Diane Vogel Ferri said...

i feel your pain.