Tuesday, August 16, 1983
Autopsy of a Douglas Fir
In your bleeding cross-section I count
a century and a half of ripples
from that mother cone dropping,
startling a jay perhaps, when
my Great Great Grampa was a baby crawling
a dirt floor, log cabin, Kentucky homestead.
For a hundred and thirty-four years
you grew like a child.
Great Great Grampa migrated West
clearing forests, founding a town.
He lost his shirt (and his farm) in
the California gold rush, then was lynched
in Missouri for speaking out
against slavery. Surviving the rope,
(rescued by friends)
he fled north and started again,
unbroken, a lifetime of accumulating
nothing. Five children.
Great Grampa, still a child like you,
fought Rebel Bushwhackers in Arkansas
before settling to a lifetime of farming.
He wed a strong-minded German
one-room schoolteacher, happily
growing children and his beloved vegetables
to age ninety-three when he collapsed
one bright afternoon
while hoeing the garden.
I count forty-three rings of adolescence,
strong growth, vigor, healthy appetite
and I imagine spreading seeds
while Grampa grew to a man
who I never met
a high school principal
small town Missouri
who peers prim and austere from a photograph
and died at his desk.
Productive solid citizen rings you added,
a good provider year after year while
my dad learned science and invented
fabrics, a double-blade razor
and a ballpoint pen.
In Maryland he became father of three,
lost his money to blackmail,
kept dynamite in a dresser drawer
and never explained.
A scientist to the end
loving his work unto death,
a family trait,
he jotted notes on a yellow pad,
observing his own transient
Suddenly in nineteen fifty-eight
when I remember fallout and Elvis,
you slowed down. You continued
your lumber creation with care,
the caution of age, as I
grew to my full seventy-one inches
reading Kerouac and picture postcards,
migrating west, fleeing normalcy
and the draft board.
Eight years ago you show
pain. The lines barely move.
Three children were born to me and then
I cut your flesh. You compressed a trench
two hundred feet long where you lie.
As you fell in your fury
you snapped the top of an oak,
stripped another fir of its branches,
destroyed two buckeyes, one bay,
one and a half alders,
mauled a young redwood.
Better you crush my yard than my house
which did not exist
nor any of this town
when you first advanced
one tender green shoot.
No one owned this soil.
Deer nibbled your buds.
Bear scratched their backs
against your rough bark.
Ohlone passed silent on their path
to the waters of La Honda Creek.
I want to believe that the end
was quick enough
and that the pain of falling was less
than the pain of standing
another winter of wind.
My golden lab (named Oak),
sire to six puppies,
protector of my house,
witness to your fall,
will seek caves,
fear the rush of wind,
the sway of branches for the
remaining dog-years of his life.
Panting he curls over my feet.
We both know that
all good fathers must fall.
Your children crowd,
blocking the light.
My children count rings,