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.
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.