I speak for the trees, although you would think we were enemies. Writers use a lot of trees. At this retreat center in Pennsylvania, some of the trees are labeled. Wearing name tags. I like that. It’s part of our uncomfortable relationship that I want to know them, but I don’t take the time, or have the horticultural instinct, to figure out who’s who.
Ivy stays green all year. I knew this. Here it’s encouraging, growing all across the ground, and showing that all is not lost, not even in February. So the walk on the grounds isn’t as grim as it would be back home. There are still patches of snow, though, glaciers at each stage of the life cycle. Embryonic glaciers, baby glaciers, grown-up glaciers that still haven’t gotten enough sun or heat to give it up.
I met an evergreen with needles so soft they shouldn’t be called needles. The kind we can’t get as a Christmas tree because all our heavy ornaments will clonk right off onto the floor. I met a gingko. Very old. Once thought extinct in the wild. The fan shaped leaves are just theoretical right now. He’s tall, with branches that aggressively favor right angles.
I met a tree with orange in the name. He looks like oranges are growing out of his skin. You might have thought boils, but luckily the name says, “Orange.” Those protrusions are natural and purposeful, not disease. I met an apple tree. First he reminded me of the crabapple trees I loved on my elementary school playground. They were short, and made little protective canopies of gooey-smelling blossoms. I named one Agatha, after Agatha Christie, whom I had recently met in the library. But I had seen apple trees, I just wasn’t thinking. Once or twice I went apple picking on my grandma’s birthday. The same shape of tree, a tree approachable for humans and with sheltering instincts.
Next to the main building, where I am attending writing workshops and eating meals, there is an ash tree. These I know now. I have one next to my driveway. I had one in the courtyard of my old building. I love trees with peeling bark: ash, sycamore, birch. They remind me of Brigitte Bardot, half undressed, wrinkled, hair half fallen down. They almost look like they are offering us paper as they shed their skins.