Thursday, February 28, 2013

Touching Trees

When I held my ten-month-old daughter up to a pin oak and she pressed her hand up to its bark, a look of guilty pleasure spread across her face. Furtively she felt out the tree’s corrugations, casting looks of disbelief my way, as though it didn't seem possible that I was allowing her this textured, coarse pleasure, as though placing the softness of her baby skin against such ridges and roughness must be prohibited. The wonder of it was nearly unbearable. She pulled her hand away and her gaze followed the trunk of the tree high up into the branches. “Bark,” I told her. “Tree.”

Since then, my children have touched trees of all kinds—the white scales of sycamore, the smooth bark of beech that gathers up in wrinkles like elephant skin, the sticky places around injuries where sap has run from pines, the wild dishevelment of shagbark hickory, the prehistoric spines of the floss silk tree with its armored dinosaur hide, the gold leaf shimmer of stewartia, the black eyes flashing on white birch bark, the pliable striations of cork, the spongy, ruddy give of redwood bark, the gnarled rind of the three-hundred-year-old white oak near our house, and the smooth-stemmed pencil trunk of its offspring that now grows in our backyard—their fingers exploring scars, burls, lichens, gaps, wounds.

More than seven years after she touched her first tree, on the eve of her eighth birthday, my daughter is still touching trees. May she touch them always.