a year of morning thanks
by Louis Jenkins
from All Tangled Up with the Living
In the front yard there are three big white pines, older
than anything in the neighborhood except the stones.
Magnificent trees that toss their heads in the wind
like the spirited black horses of a troika. It's hard to
know what to do, tall dark trees on the south side of
the house, an unfortunate location, blocking the
winter sun. Dark and damp. Moss grows on the roof,
the porch timbers rot and surely the roots have
reached the old bluestone foundation. At night, in
the wind, a tree could stumble and fall killing us in
our beds. The needles fall year after year making an
acid soil where no grass grows. We rake the fallen
debris, nothing to be done, we stand around with
sticks in our hands. Wonderful trees.
Okay, they're not the same. We have three lindens, not pines, and they stand, sentry-like, on the north, not south side of the house. I swear, those lindens have to be among the dirtiest in God's tree museum, constantly dumping their branches.
We get a wind--shoot, someone breaths heavily--and a thousand tennis racket-sized branches scatter across the yard, ten thousand wiry fingers that attack your shoes or sandals. Right now, if you check the crowns of those huge lindens, you'll discover that death stalks heavily. A good wind--and we get good winds often out here--could bring down a real mess. A half-dozen times a year I just may as well figure on it.
In early summer, when I have to cut the grass once a week, I can spend a half hour or more, every Saturday morning, just picking up the little ones. Drives me nuts. Drives me crazy. Until I borrow someone's truck, the pile behind the barn grows six feet high. Honestly.
But then, as Jenkins says of his blame pines, our lindens are absolutely beautiful, the most beautiful trees in Sioux Center, the ones, I'm sure, Joyce Kilmer had in mind when she wrote that poem everyone knows. Drive by, you'll see. They're drop dead gorgeous. Just don't pick up after 'em.
How about this? Sometime in the middle of the night, our cat decided that the warmest place to sleep was on our bed. He's not a nightly guest, but when it gets as cold as it is right now he seems to remember that we're the only show in town with an electric blanket. So he came upstairs and curled up on my wife's side, at her feet--which drives her nuts, but she didn't kick him off.
What's worse, he woke me up with his blame snoring. I'm not making this up. This morning, the cat's snoring woke me up.
Okay, okay--it's tough to admit, but we love the blame thing.
Does that make sense? No. Neither do our north-side lindens or Jenkins's south side pines. But you ought to see 'em. You just ought to see 'em.
This morning's Writer's Almanac poem struck a chord, made a little music, created a picture I see myself within. Louis Jenkins's poem comes as a blessing, for which I'm thankful.
But what he's talking about is a species of blessing we might just call the pain-in-the- butt blessings, the species that still often seems among the very best.
The cat followed me down from the bedroom and grabbed a snack when I got up, but I'll bet the farm that he's up there again right now, sawing away.