720: The Trees are Down

720: The Trees are Down

720: The Trees are Down


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Right now, I am in Sonoma, California, on Moon Mountain where friends have lent me a place to stay on and off for the last twelve years. The view is breathtaking. I can see Sonoma Mountain from here and in between, there’s the valley full of vineyards and trees. What strikes me the most is the trees, and understory, are coming back after the terrible fires of October 2017. Nearly five years later, there’s so much green everywhere, after the Nuns Fire burned over fifty-five thousand acres.

When those fires were raging, I was home in Kentucky, watching my hometown hills burn on the news. Of course I was worried about people first, my beloved friends, but it also hurt so much to think about the trees, the animals, the birds, jackrabbits, deer, everything that was trying to find shelter. But now, here I am, looking out at the land trying hard to heal itself. And my friends say, this year, even the birds seem to be coming back.

Today’s poem is about the sorrow of losing trees and animals and how sometimes it takes witnessing a loss in order to know how deeply we are connected to the earth.

The Trees are Down
by Charlotte Mew

             —and he cried with a loud voice:
             Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees—

They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of the gardens.
For days there has been the grate of the saw, the swish of the branches as they fall,
The crash of the trunks, the rustle of trodden leaves,
With the ‘Whoops’ and the ‘Whoas,’ the loud common talk, the loud common laughs of the men, above it all.
I remember one evening of a long past Spring
Turning in at a gate, getting out of a cart, and finding a large dead rat in the mud of the drive.
I remember thinking: alive or dead, a rat was a god-forsaken thing,
But at least, in May, that even a rat should be alive.
The week’s work here is as good as done. There is just one bough
    On the roped bole, in the fine grey rain,
         	   Green and high
         	   And lonely against the sky.
               	             (Down now!—)
         	   And but for that,   
         	   If an old dead rat
Did once, for a moment, unmake the Spring, I might never have thought of him again.
It is not for a moment the Spring is unmade to-day;
These were great trees, it was in them from root to stem:
When the men with the ‘Whoops’ and the ‘Whoas’ have carted the whole of the whispering loveliness away
Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them.
It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the hearts of the planes;
Half my life it has beat with these, in the sun, in the rains,   
         	   In the March wind, the May breeze,
In the great gales that came over to them across the roofs from the great seas.
         	   There was only a quiet rain when they were dying;
         	   They must have heard the sparrows flying,   
And the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were lying—
         	   But I, all day, I heard an angel crying:
         	   ‘Hurt not the trees.’

"The Trees Are Down" by Charlotte Mew, from COLLECTED POEMS AND SELECTED PROSE copyright ©1981 Carcanet Press Limited. Used by permission of Carcanet Press Limited.