Saturday, September 29, 2007

Tree At My Window

Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.
Vague dream-head lifted out of the ground,
And thing next most diffuse to cloud,
Not all your light tongues talking aloud
Could be profound.
But tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
And all but lost.
That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather.

The tree on Robert Frost's farm in Derry NH that inspired that poem will be cut down today. It's "only" a tree (and one with a rotted trunk that is in danger of bringing it down onto the farmhouse), but it's a link to the man and his work nonetheless. Descendants and devotees of Frost will be on hand to commemorate Frost's work and to see the tree off into that great forest in the sky, which I think is great. Rather than tie themselves to the tree in protest, or set out to blame someone for the tree's condition, admirers are mourning the loss in a quintessentially Frostian way: accepting that all things have their season.

It can be hard to let go of things that have meaning to us beyond their seeming utility. Anyone who has gone through the personal effects of a lost loved one can attest to the difficulty in physically placing even something like old matchbooks into a trash bag. You know in your head that People Are Not Things, but something about touching their wallet, their old jacket, or even their old tree makes you feel like that touch will guarantee your ongoing connection to the memories and feelings you love so much and can't bear to lose. I have my Dad's watch, I have his (unused!) earplugs from his days as a steelworker, I have a collection of random post-it notes ("Do you still need that velcro thingy you were asking about? I found it! Love Yur Faither") and letters he'd sent me in college or left around my house when he visited. These are the things that would break my heart to lose because they are, for me, touchstones of what made him the man he was: a seemingly-contradictory combination of eccentric personality, wacky style and very old-school work ethic. I had a lot more of his stuff after he first died, but as months went by I realized that, with my mom's (eagerly-granted) permission, I could probably throw away his used earplugs, his collection of single shoelaces dating back to 1977 just in case he needed one, and maybe his shopping lists from 1999. As time went by, it became easier to separate The Man from The Stuff, as the shoelaces became needless clutter and a choking hazard for his granddaughter, the old earplugs suddenly-finally-seemed gross, and the shopping lists signified nothing more than his facility with a dot-matrix printer and greenbar paper.

So a curtain will indeed be drawn between Frost's farm and the "Window Tree" today. But Frost's works are no less valuable and no less meaningful because we can no longer touch and see the tree that inspired them. Frost, his tree--and perhaps all of us someday--will live on in the stories, memories and joys we inspire in others. Any stuff we leave behind is valuable only if it helps to tell those stories; and in doing so helps our loved ones to first mourn and then celebrate us so that they can live their lives with a full and happy heart.

Because, as Frost himself said, "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."


Anonymous said...

Another amazing post, E. I wish I could write like you.

Beach Bum said...

My grandmother passed away not to long ago and my family and I are still hanging on to many similar things you wrote about concerning your dad. This may sound absolutely nuts but the things I'm keeping are just not for their connection to my grandparents but the world they belonged to. I know the "good old days" were nothing of the sort here in the South for anyone not white and rich but I can't help but feel it was in its own way a more honest and safer time. Like you wrote as time goes on it will be easier to separate from those items but for right now they are connections to my grandparents and the world they lived in. Needless to say, great post!