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INTRODUCTION Pines, oaks, and hickories; cherries, dogwoods, and hemlocks; maples, beeches, and tulip poplars; the trees growing up out of the Appalachian soil have been some of my closest friends and most cherished confidants. My sweat, tears, kisses, blood, and grueling hours of work have wafted up into the canopy layer of the forest, saturating every leaf till they hang heavy. Brilliant afternoons were spent lying on brown dry leaves, sun flecks sprinkled across my face as roots and soil compacted into the ground under my weight. My heart relaxes, feeling more at home when surrounded by the dark purples of the black walnut and the spotted snowy grey of the American beech—golden brown leaves creating a sense of life even in the depths of January. I have learned from these trees, I have learned how to set roots down where I am; I have learned how to acknowledge where I grow best; I have learned how to let others grow around me, filling their growing space, and how to fill mine. My own skin, like bark, has grown thicker and more grooved with age. I have witnessed changes in the forest alongside changes within myself. On the forestry crew I have watched as I have become more confident in my ability to teach. Over the past four years, I have transitioned going from student to teacher and mentor. It has been a profound transition knowing that it is no longer my time to cut down the biggest tree or to step up and prove that I know how to wield a splitting maul as well as any boy. I no longer need the practice. It is time to take the skills I have learned and pass them on to the new members of the crew. I have made this forest my home, planting new trees for the ones I have cut down, running the trails for blow downs and hazards, and inoculating and watching as the mushrooms have grown. It is now time for me to pass all these things onto other students, allowing them to find a home amidst the trees I have known

so well. In this anthology I asked for poems, essays, and photos about the 1


trees on the Warren Wilson Campus. I asked students and faculty to think of trees on campus that have made a difference for them in their time here. I am so pleased with the results of this anthology. It has been such a pleasure to read the stories and memories of the trees on this campus and what they have contributed to people’s lives. I have learned a great deal about different relationships people have formed with the forest here; from the terrifying reality of cutting a tree from a hundred feet up in the air, to watching a group of students grow while working in the forest, to memories of trees no longer here. Putting together this anthology has made me realize how much of my time at Wilson has been alongside or in the forest. I feel a deep connection to the 650 acres of forest on this campus and feel that without the forest and the trails I would not have learned and grown the way I have. Thank you to all the contributors; for sharing your memories and outlooks on such a wonderful asset to the college. - Sara Hodges

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TABLE OF CONTENTS Sara Hodges

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Molly Herold

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Cella Langer

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Julia Page

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Chris O’Leary

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Brett Wyatt

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Isaiah Mead

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Dave Ellum

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Cella Langer

12

Sally Obremski

13

Brett Wyatt

14

Max VanderBroek

15

Brett Wyatt

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Isaiah Mead

18

Catherine Reid

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Cella Langer

21

Sarah Hyde

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EXCERPT, A BEAUTIFUL DISASTER

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ve dreamt of living in a tree since before I can remember. When I was little I would beg my father to build me a tree home of my own anytime we were living in a house we owned. But he wasn’t the handy type, and we moved too frequently to set down any kind of roots. To this day I find myself compulsively looking at tree house books, imagining what it would be like to live in a canopy, surrounded by leaves. I’ve been preoccupied with the tree itself, its gnarled twisted branches growing out in all directions with what appears to be elegant chaos. But the growth is actually clever design to gather water and reach sunlight, each branch a limb to serve the larger body. I’ve been preoccupied with the way the sun and moon are more beautiful when seen through tree limbs and leaves. I’ve imagined the way my little wooden house will change mood depending upon the relationship of things, sky light to leaf color: sunrise, midmorning, dusk, overcast, a pitchperfect blue, early burnt sienna autumn or heat heavy mid-summer. I’ve been enveloped in all stages of this imagining and the fantasy is a vivid one. But I have little considered what other things also call a tree home. - Molly Herold

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- Cella Langer

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Atlas for After the Summer’s Departing This trite poignant token this broken bone lattice bunched-rubbish leaf falling through the air in a slow corkscrew for my hand to catch while some unseen birds warble like ghosts old radio programs still in the ether and it’s warm this November at the base of the willow dust tangles with asparagus shoots of green and gold light and the tall trees get naked first their arms twisted as though sinewy as though skinned and spotted as though furrowed with having to hold all those invisible black feathers and all that world upright finally now these wooden stalwarts can chuck their dignity to the bright bitter winds coming in fast like some cavalcade of meteorites - Julia Page

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Lessons

I

have often sat in trees. Sat under trees. Hung at arms-length from trees. Sat across from trees, who stay in the shadows, embarrassed of their autumn bark and unleafed spines. I have swung from trees and seen water moccasins in the river and underwear in the murk of the pond. I have felt the elasticity of branches. The buoyancy in gripping a rope, stirring pools of silt and plunging. It is the “rubber pencil” trick-- an illusion that we can move the inert. That the land moves before us. Perhaps, it is for such reasons we continue to climb and rest in their saddles. Some things are too big to understand from the bottom. Space consists of the area between objects, between energy and action. From within or atop a tree, we see space. The distance to the ground. The length between the branches. The part in someone’s hair. Space like gravity is inevitable—we are drawn to stasis. We are attached to the land. Our frames are not boundless. We are not always welcome. Life grows beyond our means and stretches for sometime thereafter. Bark is uninhabitable and it is the wind, which reminds us. Reminds us with the damp wood of the tree house, pushing up against the leaves. Whining like the legs of a rocking chair. Shifting in the cooler moments. Between us and the ground is nothing: knots and air and space. Nothing. How could we belong up here? Our necks enable us to see what is above us. To see what we otherwise would not. To distinguish our head from our torso. Our top from our trunk. I have stood next to many trees and never once thought myself to look the part. Though in darkness, things seem less certain. I have sat above the soccer field and heard the trees and felt the trees move like a presence. The way they shiver in cold when I shiver. The way we both know the cold. We both wait to be still. There are trees there much bigger than myself—bigger than I could guess—that quake and wince at the night. They shudder when no one is looking. Perhaps, in this, we are alike. We are peripheral and honest when necks are bent to see. - Chris O’Leary

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- Brett Wyatt

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We Want to Fly for Ted Hughes Mornings all begin this way. The odor of fresh air let in by the opening door, the touching noises as he is everywhere in the house, gathering his things to leave. The Quiet when I know he’s gone. Who goes away, I can’t tell you. Who stays home to know who’s gone at all? Not I. Or even the ghost of me, as lately he considers. But the children must be woken and readied—such as roses must be prepped to bloom with long handled sheers—they must be washed & fed & assured I am alive. Some days I am not, & even then they are— like the unpruned ones who become feral, a mass of thorns & unruly blossoms. Who, too, are fragrant, & I can’t decide which I prefer. Some days I’m gone. From as soon as the head of mine lifts off the pillow, it keeps going, down the hall, the flight of steps to the street, then it finds a tree, & begins to climb. The branches are the strongest living thing I have grasped & this is why I go up, this is how I keep going even after the branches have dropped away (having finally been held up. I am nothing finally), & this is how I pause at some point to look down on the roofs & hashing of streets and lanes, the toy-like stature of it all, or the impressionistic view—that I could sweep my hand across & change it all to resemble a woven fishnet, or a flock of sparrows writhing as one above a field. But, instead I touch nothing. So I see toys, as I see them everyday, tossed down the stairs, thrown against the floor, desired and discarded. And I say what I always say to the children. Be good to what you have. You may not always have it. - Isaiah Mead

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Simple Opportunity

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lantation silviculture has never held much interest for me, professionally or personally. Generally speaking, plantations offer limited opportunity for imaginative management due to their simplicity and single objective focus. However, the white pine plantation on Christmas Tree Hill will always serve as a milestone along the path of my teaching career at Warren Wilson College. The importance of this plantation does not come from the standing trees, nor from the final product they’ll deliver. I’ll always reflect fondly on this stand for providing the opportunity to establish an excellent Forestry Crew. The Forestry Crew is an essential component of a vibrant and successful Forestry program at Warren Wilson College. To say that The Crew was in disarray prior to the operation in the plantation is no understatement. I chalk the situation up to a time of transition, rather than the faults of any particular person or people. Work in the plantation provided the opportunity for all of us to come together and make the crew what it will be for the next chapter of forestry at the college. As the trees fell like dominoes in the row thinning, so to did the impediments to the crew’s cohesion. English with a chainsaw, Jolly with an ax and Shawn working the site making sure the job was done safely and properly. The hardwood release opened up growing space for the trees of the future stand as well as our future foresters, artists, historians and biologists. The woods are my lecture hall, and what better classroom could I ask for than marking trees in the snow with engaged students. Born from student ideas, the coppice cut represented the importance of breaking free from lockstep thinking on what should be done to broader ideas of what could be achieved. Small trees, low biodiversity, stump sprouts. There is nothing ecologically or visually epic about the Christmas Tree Hill plantation. For me, its importance comes from the giant opportunity it provided in showing all of us what could be accomplished and who could be depended on. Slated to be treated again in a couple decades, I hope the work will serve as bookends to my career at the college. I hope members from the original crew come back to help and show students not yet born how lessons learned in the forest can lead to success in life. - Dave Ellum

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- Cella Langer

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The Trees Tell

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or three years I tried to walk the same trail every day: up Suicide Ridge, around and up Cold Springs, and back down through Dogwood. The way the trails wound through the forest made me notice the nature of trees more than I ever had before. The trees brought to my attention the little changes in the world throughout the seasons: In March, when the leaves spring from the limbs, the forest slowly becomes a wall of green, smelling sweeter and fresher every day. The spring raindrops cling onto the branches above me, waiting to be shaken loose, gushing down onto my skin once a breeze passes through. Zig-zagging through the trails, I cannot see what is around the corner. My ears become more aware in the spring, listening for movement up the trail. By May, the leaves have grown full enough that the trees cool the forest, blocking everything on the ground from the sun except for the few shafts of light that break through. The leaves rustle, whisper, tell. If my pounding feet do not tell the world ahead that I am coming, the trees do. They let the rest of the forest know who is walking amongst them. The forest becomes a maze that I can disappear into, it swallows me up, providing a sanctuary from the scorching sun. October turns the trees into a burning glow: red, yellow, brown, green, orange. When the leaves fall to the ground the whole forest smells wet and crisp, the leaves crunching under my feet. The bare trees cast long, thin shadows across the valley, revealing the winding paths. My eyes become more aware of what lays ahead, the rustling noises caused by any movement makes me more attentive to the ground, the squirrels, turtles, and snakes. By late November the leaves are gone, all underfoot. They no longer hide the view at the top of the ridge, and the cold winter air blows through the valley. Far beyond the valley sits the horizon of the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains, reflecting the winter sky. The trees look stark and naked, the forest, hollow. This is when it is time for me to stop my daily walks and enjoy the human privilege of the warm indoors of winter. - Sally Obremski

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- Brett Wyatt

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Hanging Sixty Feet Above the Ground from a Maple Tree

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ometimes it takes a force of nature to put human life into perspective; a glimpse at something extreme can make even the most ordinary things in life appear extraordinary. For me that perspective comes from hanging eighty, sometimes ninety feet above the ground from a tree branch—dizzying heights have a way of helping me snap out of the daily grind. And working on the Warren Wilson tree crew has made me strangely akin to the idea of relying on a rope and a tree branch for a lifeline. But I have to admit, there are times when the heights make my stomach churn. It’s not so much because of the people on the ground who look like ants, or because the wind makes the wood creak in a way that’s far too foreboding for my own comfort. It’s something entirely different. To stand atop a tree that is ninety feet tall is an interesting feeling: a time warp. Sometimes while I’m up there I can’t help but wonder when the top branch was last touched by human fingers. At such great heights it often becomes difficult to deny that those giant effigies, the trees that we see every day, are actually alive. How else could something that towers so high over the earth have come from a seed the size of a small pebble? Yet, despite my wide-eyed awe, my job on the tree crew isn’t to contemplate the existential philosophies of the world; it’s to take down dead trees. A simple task really. First I take a saw through the cambium, picking away at small chunks of bark before moving further inside the wood. Usually I feel the whole body of the tree shake with the saw’s vibrations as they run from the tree top, all the way down to the roots and into the ground. Then I use the saw to cut a large wedge from the tree and toss it to the ground, watch it float downward until it hits the ground like a brick. Step one finished. Next I bring the saw around the backside of the tree. Often times the dense heartwood resists the saw and the sticky sap protests, holding the saw like glue. That’s when the job becomes frustrating. It makes work harder. I have to saw faster, sweat more, until finally the top of the tree bows toward the ground, breaking into a free fall toward the soil below. That’s the job in a nutshell—the way a tree is topped. It’s seemingly free of nostalgia, seemingly free of life lessons. Just hard work. But once the entire tree is on the ground I always count its rings.

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Sometimes it’s over 150 years old; older than the college that taught me the skills needed to cut trees down. That’s when things do become existential, when human life does get put into perspective by something that we see every single day. A tree’s rings tell its eulogy; they read like hieroglyphics. Eighty five years ago was the coldest winter it had ever seen. Forty years ago there was a flood. Twenty years ago there was a drought. Two years ago the tree became infested with beetles. When I look at a tree’s rings, I realize those things that tower over us and provide us shade are much more than trees: they’re living histories. Scrapbooks. - Max VanderBroek

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- Brett Wyatt

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In Preparation for Being a Father Tell about that time it was raining so hard we could hardly see; and how everyone pulled off the highway to wait it out but we didn’t, driving on with nothing left on the road to run into. No, tell about when you were fixing Oma’s roof and fell from the peak and broke your wrist, how you lay in the lawn looking up into the poplars, watching the cardinals dart about, until finally the ambulance came and you stood up. Or tell about why we both know all the words to “Take It Easy” after belting them out, over the cassette player, out the open truck windows, driving through cool nights in garlic country, east of Big Sur. Tell about the oak that came down in the storm, and what we found inside the splintered trunk: hundreds of acorns, some already sprouting translucent leaves. No, tell about when your sister was young, how she tried washing her hair with horse shampoo, (because the she had read about it in a beauty magazine) and how it turned her blond curls coarse and made them stand on end, glowing in the sunlight like a halo, despite her rage. Tell about when the dog ran away and the how we found her in the rusted-out Studebaker in the hayfield, six closed-eye pups besides her. Her fear and pride, and our relief. Tell about the words I invented before I could speak, how I called for you with single syllables. - Isaiah Mead

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Cicada Summer

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rees embrace the main part of campus; it’s a fact of Warren Wilson, the oaks especially noticeable for limbs that stretch over large swathes of life. But it took the arrival of the 17-year cicadas before I fully understood what such a canopy means. We knew to expect them for weeks ahead of time—they’re coming, they’re coming, ran the rumors and news headlines—though at first there was simply an empty skin here, an odd buzzing there, and, at least in my Asheville neighborhood, not much else to notice. But on campus they appeared with the speed of a plague, thousands of dark nymphs emerging from holes in the ground and crawling up tree trunks or reed stems, so impatient to split their skins that they didn’t care who watched. All was haste and miraculous transformation in the rush to become adults, flawless and fully packaged with all they needed to know about operating brand new wings and moving heavy bodies through air. They led with their eyes, such startling red eyes, as though to highlight the number of years they had spent in utter darkness. Within hours of their journey upward, the air changed, as did the quality of the trees, becoming ribs that contained us and we like Jonah inside the whale. There was no escaping the noise. Exiting a building or car meant entering a vibrational field, higher pitched than that of the regular summer cicadas, full of urgency and need, and held close by the green roof of leaves. On the ground below, spent cicadas cluttered paths and roads, and even birds that normally eat seeds began to feast on the proteinpacked meals. And while I know no person who ate them, as they do in some places (stir fried, deep fried), the insects showed up in poems, in stories, in 3-D art (even after death, the red shine lived on). Weeks later, when the mating waned at last, even the trees seemed relieved, though the quiet never came back, for by then it was August and everywhere were the sounds of mowing and harvest and play and travel. It took longer to see the effect of the cicadas’ brief stay. So many clusters of dying leaves appeared that they made the trees look diseased, as though with some kind of measles, the stems scarred by the insects’ egglaying. The wither and droop became the long reminder—both of the

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weeks when the air hummed and every living thing had to know it, and of all that the trees endure, season after season, some of it wounding, some of it singing, some simply washing in and over them. - Catherine Reid

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- Cella Langer

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Created Out of Air

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uring the winter, a tree becomes dormant. It drops its leaves, slows its water flow, and takes a nap.

Clipboard in hand and headphones jammed into my inner ear, I rambled through the forest. When I stumbled upon one, I took my backpack off, unzipped it, and removed the small cardboard box of aluminum tags. I searched for a branch that I didn’t have to tiptoe up to and one that others could reach in a few years. When I finally found one, I scraped a number in the metal and then twist the tag around the branch. I wandered through patches of forests that people discarded old notes and beer bottles in. I wandered through patches that once I sat down in with a crewmember and smoked hand rolled’s. I was searching for hemlocks. I was searching. If a tree’s top is removed, its trunk will not grow anymore. Its branches, however, will continue. Ropes burn hands raw then callused. Strained backs under logs of oak never forget their knees. Fingers memorize the twists the split tail has to do in order to hold weight, to hold life. Chain saws pull down on flexing arms. Legs strapped into spikes stop trembling just to breath. Pine-saped hands learn again how to feel the creases of a palm. When a tree establishes canopy dominance and has grown higher than its competitors, it puts on width. It adds layers and layers on top of its heartwood. “What if it hits the trashcans?” she shouts down. “Then I’ll give you an extra five points,” I shout back. The top of the tree sails down and crunches on the dirt road, landing about two trucks away from the silver trashcans stuffed full of recycling. As I stride over to untie the rope, my boss says words that send me back to the 110 foot spruce that I once stuck my gaffs into, synched my buck strap around, and topped while bar oil dripped down my wrists. It’s a right of passage. A view that you get to see last

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of. And while I saw the cows turn into mice, I kissed the sweat on my palm and smacked it down on the trunk that spilled sap. A “who hoo� snaps me back. My brother once told me, trees are the purest of souls. They are able to stand still. - Sarah Hyde

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WWC Trees Anthology