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As Much a Part of Earth

February 24, 2010 by · 3 comments

Christina Lovin

Photo: hickoryhollow113

I am afraid, I admit. There are reports of mountain lions
in these woods. I am mortal, like the deer and the squirrel,
but I come prepared: large stick in my hand, a knife
from the kitchen in my pocket. A quick study, I stop
and turn as I have read, to act as prey would: wary
and watchful. But this quiet dell is softly green
as any open meadow: a blanket of moss covering
everything living or lost. Soon, I am at peace here,
like the sodden forms reclining in this gloomy glade.
Around me the apparatus of measurement (researcher’s
trash, I’m told) is evident on the veiled mounds
of sawn logs: white pipes, blue flags, screens, and gauges.
Recent scrapings show bare tree flesh where scientists
have peeled off layers of the dead bark to calculate,
investigate, and adjudicate the aggregate decay. How long
does it take a five-hundred-year-old wood to return to dirt?

And what is it about this place of natural decomposition
that brings to mind what lies beneath the ground?
My mother dead nearly two years now, her mother
more than fifty, grandfather ninety years gone this spring:
should I not take comfort in their usefulness since death?
We like to measure life in years like growth rings
on a tree: my daughters, thirty-six and thirty-eight,
grown and married, their children eleven, eight,
and two, soon. (Where has the time gone? Why am I old?)
Is the lasting value of one’s life actually death: how
we return to soil, even housed and sealed? We do return,
certain as the sun rises and sets. Dust to dust, just
as these geriatric giants do: slowly, slowly. Listen.
The forest’s music is sweet: a balance of life and afterlife:
the slow insinuation of moisture and sigh of nitrogen,
the jaws of the beetle working, their frass dropping to the sod.

Listen. Your body is already falling away. As you arrive,
you are beginning to leave, cell by cell. Be joyful, then,
my friend. For at your end, your body’s final uses
are no more, no less, than those of these boles reclining
supine and prone across the forest floor: food, shelter,
fertilizer, and nurturing soil. For all I’ve been in life,
to all to whom I’ve been anything, I say: I will turn
my back to the forest without dread. Let the lion come.
May the deer and vole and squirrel find safety today.
I sheath the jagged fear. I lay my walking stick aside
to decompose. If you believe in resurrection, believe
in this salient truth, as well: our bodies have uses
to this earth, more than to any heaven you can imagine,
none more lovely than the many rooms of this jade
mansion. If I never rise, better to remember me here:
earthbound in my demise, a mound beneath
some shroud of moss, as much a part of earth.

Andrews Experimental Forest
Blue River, Oregon

Categories: Frontpage · poetry


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