Smoky Mountain Trees

Tuliptree leaves shining with rain drops, North Carolina, summer of 2017

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.

 

part of a chestnut oak, North Carolina, June 2017, 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.

 

Portrait of a pitch pine, watercolour pencils, North Carolina, June 2017

 

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.