I think I shall never see,
A poem lovely as a tree, (leading couplet from Trees, by Joyce Kilmer)
No tree is perfect. I have looked. All my life.
I have studied trees, climbed them, planted them, pruned and trimmed them. I have chopped them down, picked them up, carved them, and burned them. I have bathed in their shade, hidden in their branches, ducked under them, leaned against them, and hugged them. I have even written a poem or two about them, notably imperfect.
I love trees. I own about a million of them. For real. Our several acres of Northern Forest in Wisconsin is recovering from logging a few decades ago, and many thousand Quaking Aspen and Balsam Fir grow here, along with many Sugar Maples, Paper White Birch, Black Ash, White Spruce, a few White Cedars, Red and White Pines, American Larch (Tamarack), some Slippery Elm, and one big Red Oak. Have I missed anybody? Oh, a couple American Linden (Basswood) and a few I may be forgetting.
Not one is perfect. One White Pine has two heads. A favorite Red Pine is so crooked we call it Dancing Pine (or, Kokopelli Pine). Most are irregular due to shading, crowding, insects, and disease. Some are in the wrong places for my human purposes (I can’t see through them down the stream valley to watch critters).
The forest is…perfect, I mean. No, my forest is not the best forest. Perfection is not a competition. Nor, is my woods better than what it will become. It is perfect in its becoming.
A forest is not a thing as people think about things. In the first place, it is many, many things—different kinds of things, living and nonliving (in Western cosmology), finned, feathered, furred, and green, brown, and colorless. But, more than that, a forest is a process.
With the movement of accent one syllable, the adjective becomes a verb: to perfect, to complete or make nearly perfect.
That is a forest, any forest. It is a process of becoming better, growing into a more perfect community.
I call my woods Lonesome Pines because that is more poetic and less gruesome than Pine Bones. The massive logging of our native White Pines, scattering discarded branches among the tops, resulted in terrible fires. The fires charred the stumps, preserving them for many, many decades. I walk among them in reverence.
Today, I also amble among growing trees. Sure, many of the Aspen and Balsam die and fall, but others grow. I found two new Tamaracks in the swamp just this morning. We celebrated, the forest and me. We are living a process of perfection. We are getting better—recovering, if you will.
No human is perfect. No marriage or nation is without flaw or dysfunction. But, then, again, these are not things. They are processes. We are acts of perfection.
I write this on a Fourth of July, and I marvel at the process of these United States of America. Our Constitution is not perfect. Our forefathers were men of flaws. But, this process of growth, of constantly re-inventing ourselves, of becoming a more perfect union—that is what this holiday is to me.
Combat Veterans understand imperfection. See, the thing about combat is, when we do it right, somebody dies. When we do it wrong, somebody else dies. Right or wrong, we risk dying, ourselves. Combat is like logging a forest: everybody suffers.
Recovery is like re-growth, a process perfection, of becoming more perfect, and we aren’t done, yet. It grieves this critical old Veteran to witness America’s focus on imperfections rather than on the process of perfection. We can do better, America, you and me—and that is all life really means, making choices to become better.
Happy Birthday, America. We’re growing up.