Neither Bird Nor Tree

A poem by Sara Teasdale begins:

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground, 
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound

At Zion I saw a swallow flying overhead. It alit in a small hole in a giant rock face. We had decided to take a rare trip into a popular national park. Zion was as beautiful as it is hyped up to be. And as crowded. 

The cliff face at Zion where the swallows nest

We were standing among scores of other humans gawking at the enormous rock cliff and the spray of water pouring over it. I don’t think anyone else noticed the bird. The bird, if it noticed us, didn’t let on. 

We had all driven miles to get to this place, to see this waterfall and its three emerald pools, and we felt lucky to be surrounded by such beauty. I wondered if the swallow had the same sense of beauty.  (And what makes something “beautiful?”) Did it realize that it made its home in this iconic place? Or was it just going about the business of living? If birds think of us at all, do they wonder why we hurry around, rushing from place to place? Do they chuckle to themselves as they watch us jockey for position, tripping over each other for a glimpse at something “beautiful” that serves no purpose in sustaining life? Taking a million photos of it? Writing blog posts about it?

And frogs in the pools singing at night, 
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire, 
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire
At the upper emerald pool (photobombed by a small child)
watercolor by Holly

Of the many things we’re seeing for the first time, cottonwood trees have made an impression on me. We first identified them in San Lorenzo canyon in New Mexico. Before that, we had seen these twisted, mangled bare trees, and weren’t sure if they were dead or just dormant. At the same time, we started seeing very light colored debris, that appeared to be tiny heart-shaped pieces of thin paper, littering the trails. It was at San Lorenzo in early April that we noticed these same trees starting to blossom in the most luminescent light green – their young leaves a thin and delicate heart. The piles of heart-shaped “paper” debris still littering the ground below them.

Dead cottonwood leaves look like paper litter

To picture a cottonwood, imagine a little girl’s toy that her older brother took and bent into unnatural shapes, half broken and splintered in all directions. This is winter’s cottonwood. Then in spring, it gives birth to the most delicate and unlikely little wisps of green. 

This cottonwood looked like it was trying to do a handstand

We saw many of these trees that appeared to have been washed down the canyon, bashed and battered against rocks along the way, coming to rest haphazardly among whatever obstacle was too much for them to get past. 

And there they grew. From the broken and splintered limbs, new life emerged. This has to be the ugliest tree I’ve ever seen. 

Or the most beautiful.

It was hard to tell the top from the bottom of this cottonwood tree
The cottonwood’s leaves are gossamer thin

The poem ends:

And not one will know of the war, not one 
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, 
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn 
Would scarcely know that we were gone

And then we left.

Thanks for reading.


5 thoughts on “Neither Bird Nor Tree

  1. Holly, I read this again this morning. I love it , it’s so beautiful. Can’t wait to see you and Adrienne on Friday.

    Love Mom

  2. Thanks Joe and Holly for sharing your blog with us this afternoon. It was very moving, your pictures and prose.
    It was a pleasure helping you at the FamilySearch library.
    Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

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