On one level, I understand my affinity for white oaks.
Dad loved them, and we used to talk about that. The texture
and hue of their leaves, their steely bark, ancient angles
of their limbs, the swath of their colors – russet, gray,
old-world green, textured black at twilight – their affinity
for each other, growing with their kin high above hollows
on hillsides and ridges. The deep peace of their shade.
Their loam-scented skirts studded with acorns hidden in
the wrinkles of their roots. At times, among them, the sap
of me seems to channel from some source below, rising
through root and trunk and branch to be launched toward
Heaven in a leaf, falling to the sheltered path as one who’s
seen the light, yet comes back for a scripted death. Some-
where inside I knew this affinity was more than could be
explained, and bowed my head to the riddle. Then I saw it.
In the cemetery of the old family church. I’d been there many
times and never had noticed the lone grave on a hillside
sloping down and away from other markers gathered in
familial groups, most decked with plastic florals or the rare
live potted plant. Set off by itself among the roots and shaded
by the largest white oak tree on the place, its small flat head-
stone partly buried in sand and clay, was the lonely grave of
my great-grandfather. Why here? Why away? What were the
missing words of that narrative? Then, while standing in the
speckled sunlit shadows of the father oak, I began to write them.
“The tree had been his confidant, a childhood’s cherished friend.
It’s limbs had written down the dreams he’d whispered to the wind.
And when the one who’d held his heart slipped silently away,
he’d stood among its roots and shade, with nothing left to say,
but on that very spot he firmly made his solemn vows
that in this ground would be his rest, beneath these ancient boughs.”
Hearts live on in other hearts. Do you believe? Could the
channel for one to another be the roots and trunk and limbs
and leaves and shade of a white oak tree? Now when I walk
among their groves and groupings and put to silence the chatter
of doubts and disbelief and all illusions of ever being alone in
the forest of this or any world, I stop and stand long enough
to take root in the land and listen awhile for an old man’s voice
before leaving with an acorn and a leaf and a sprouting soul.