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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Bateman’

birches1

I was recently driving down a road that bisects the Larose Forest. The birches above reminded me of Robert Frost’s poem, Birches.
It begins:

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.

Along with The Road Not Taken and Stopping by the Woods on a Snowing Evening and a few others, Birches is one of Frost’s most beloved poems. When I googled birches and Frost, I got a long list of results. You can readily find copies of the poem, comments on the poem, free essays on the poem. In the latter category, I was drawn to an essay that states “When we first read the poem, all I could think of was how the poem just wasted 10 minutes of my life.” Well, maybe you get what you pay for! The poem continues:

But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust–
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)

It’s true that ice storms can be hard on trees, especially birches. I think in the case of the birches pictured, however, another possible culprit is edge effect, the susceptibility that comes with fragmenting a larger forest with roads, utility corridors, or other development. Ontario Nature has a great introduction to fragmentation in our forests available here. Frost continues:

I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows–
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.

Where would such a boy be found there days? A swinger of birches. While even a generation ago children were sent outdoors by their frazzled mothers (“What are you doing inside on such a nice day? Get outside and play!”), todays children spend much of their time watching TV, playing video games, working on computers, text-messaging. When they are outdoors, it is often to participate in an adult-organized sport such as soccer. In his book Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv coined a term for this disengagement with the outdoors: Nature-deficit Disorder. Now there is a growing movement to reintroduce children to the natural world. An example is the No Child Left Inside program. Another take on this is Robert Bateman’s Get to Know program. Frost finishes:

So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

birch2

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