Posted on July 5, 2009


When we lived in London, I had a good friend, a tree named Jeremiah. He was a birch and stood in Waterlow Park. He was a slow talent and came into bloom late in spring but then he lasted longer than most of his brothers and would give me shade and solace when many other trees had already gone bald and brown.

I went to see Jeremiah when I was in a hard place, which I often was in those days. I walked down the sloping hill overlooking the City past the garden house where they gave artists a break who hadn’t got in the London art scene, lucky bastards. Little old ladies and tourists on their way to Marx’ grave would stop by and say nice things about the paintings and small sculptures and some would buy. Here, opinions were brutal and as unreal as stock options. Cognition was swapped for compliments. If you opened your mouth, you had to sit down make yourself at home and eat a scone. The tea was thin and the conversation was thinner.

Further down the rimpled ridge, broken statues were scattered across the patio as if to remind the citizens that nothing would last unharmed and the sight of those missing noses and snapped limbs calmed me. In spring, the scent of death wafted from highgate cemetery across a brick wall and mixed with the smell of flowers and the towering presence of a municipality gone mad and mightily so.

I walked down the hill and I passed old men on benches and couples snogging on the commons. I walked straight up to Jeremiah, who stood alone, as if in thoughts, surrounded by green, and put my head against his bark, hoping he’d talk. Sometimes he kept silent, mostly he asked: how’re yer doing, my friend. I sighed, happy for a moment of recognition, and said, I’m not doing too good today, my dear uncle died, and we fight at first sight and I might kill myself later tonight.

Jeremiah seemed to sigh back at me, an avuncular antipode, and said with the simplicity of sandalwood: Snap out of it, mate. See the heavens? Smell the grass? Feel the ground beneath your feet? – I knew he wasn’t asking, he was telling, it was the beginning of the tallest of tales. I longed for his sensible touch. I rested my head on his roots and wiggled my toes in silent communion.

People came by. Some smiled, most looked away, afraid they might catch the treehugger’s curse.

Lovers lost on the lawns liked it when Jeremiah sang his lullaby while the stars stood by as they do, sparing with words but strong in the skies. Nobody lost their mind: there was always song to disperse the doleful expression on people’s faces.

Later it became winter and we left town leaving the torment behind. But i still get letters from Jeremiah the birch written on periderm signed with bird chant, sweetly fragrant.

with thanks to Heather Vaulkhard for looking under birch trees for true signs of life’s poetry.

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