Rain-dropped leaves of the Tuliptree

Rain-dropped leaves of the Tuliptree



You may come upon a forest

high where crows and ravens fly;

where the whip-poor-wills in darkness

trill their notes up to the sky;

You may come across a vastness

filled with corn, and dewy downs;

churches, fields, and cows and horses,

stretching through the American South.


These are trees we love to see here,

on the heights and by the streams;

while the sun is making rainbows

over valleys wet with beams.


Blackjack oak has club-like leaves:

shiny dark, in ruffles of green —

and if you burn these modest trees,

they’ll flame and crackle, endlessly.


Sourwood has a creamy vein

in bloom, with dainty bells along its skein;

sweet when ripe, though leaves taste sour —

prized is honey from this flower.


American beech is a cheerful soul:

light green leaf and smooth grey bole;

veins as straight as a whale-tooth bone:

This hardwood burns well when it’s old.


Chestnut oak, watercolour pencils

Leaves of Chestnut oak are frilled as,

or curl like ocean cresting waves,

bunched like mimics of bananas: 

nothing else looks quite the same. 


If you adore pink in profusion,

though full blossoms match a bride,

you’ll love Rosebay rhododendron

rising creek to mountainside.


Pitch pine stands tall, arms all graceful,

tapers to the very top; 

‘Candlewood’, some still do call it — 

for the resin in its knots.


There are many other lovelies:

Walnut, Locust, Birch and Elm;

good for arrows, fire, or paper —

Black willow in the medical realm.


Cherokees, the local Indians

made dark baskets from its twigs;

or from its Salix bark took acid,

and brewed a headache cure to swig!


Then there’s glossy Mountain laurel,

leaves shaped like an Egyptian wink;

darling with its miniature flowers,

striped and spiked in white and pink.


Now our special Smoky favourite:

we have saved the best to last:

though its parrot-coloured flower

blooms in May and then is past — 


No, it’s not a sort of maple,

though we love the smoke-sweet sap;

though they glow from red to yellow

from Rocky Top to Newfound Gap;


Nor is any oak the winner

though the Scarlet has a claim:

deep-cut leaves, whose points are tufted,

red in Fall like brilliant paint.


No, the crown of this tree pageant

must go to the Tuliptree —

more stately than a broad Box-elder;

taller, too, than Hickory.

Though the Latin, ‘Liriondendron',

suits this beauty to the ground,

still its leaves, arched like the flower,

makes its short name right and sound.


Like raised hands, they seem to wave on

all the visitors to these woods;

like a group of flags they signal

the happiness of these neighbourhoods.

Soft and bright green, like new saplings,

broad and smooth, they seem to glow:

And when we see the Tulips beckon,

our hearts perk up, and on we go.

Portrait of a pitch pine, Smoky Mountains, July 2017 Watercolour pencils (without water added) 

Portrait of a pitch pine, Smoky Mountains, July 2017

Watercolour pencils (without water added)