A Gift of Chalk

Día de los Reyes Magos, 2009

My friend L. once gave me a box
of white chalk the approximate size
& shape of a pack of cigarettes.
What’s this, I asked. Well, if someone
comes up & asks you for a cigarette,
she said, you could give him
a piece of chalk. O.K., thanks, I said,
& stuck it absent-mindedly in
my backpack. Just now, rummaging
in the bottom of the pack for a book,
I found it again. It took me a second
to remember where it had come from.
A mouse had gotten in at some point
& nibbled a small hole in the top
of the box, but the twelve chalks were all
still unbroken. Development Through
Creativity, says the Crayola logo,
as if there were any other way.
Makes clean, smooth lines & erases
easily, it says on the back,
& suddenly I have a strong urge
to go out & draw something on
the sidewalk, something with clouds
& white orchids, polar bears, paper
birches, skeletons, dandelion seedheads,
albino deer with great branching antlers,
waterfalls, waterlilies, the Milky Way—
all with the smoke from elegant
faux cigarettes. But it’s dark out now,
& winter. Sleet ticks against
the window, & the walk is buried
under a fresh half-inch of white.

Old trees, new ornaments

discarded Christmas treesFestival of the Trees #31, the New Year’s 2009 edition, is worth an extended visit at Rock Paper Lizard. As Hugh says, ’tis the season to take down the Christmas tree — something we just got around to doing this morning up at my parents’ house. Dad kindly undecorated the tree, leaving me with the simpler task of carrying it outside.

If you feed wild birds, discarded Christmas trees make very useful shelters from hawks and inclement weather. I nestled this year’s tree among the skeletons of previous Christmases, four of them, in varying stages of decomposition. Even without the needles, thin, tangled coats of weeds and grasses still offer some protection. The Christmas tree is truly a gift that goes on giving. When I came back with my camera to snap the above picture less than five minutes later, a half-dozen white-throated sparrows flew out. No sooner had it been stripped of the usual myriad of fake bird ornaments than the real thing moved in.


I’ve just been reading about TreeYoga. I got all excited at first, but it turned out that this was really boring old PeopleYoga — the trees are merely used for a form of non-lethal hanging.

As in the yoga posture (asana) of the Tree Pose (Vrksasana), TreeYoga beckons us to reflect upon a core principle of yoga — balance. Like trees, yogis can now root themselves into the earth and extend gloriously up to the sky. There is great beauty and playfulness in the flowering shapes of yogis sprouting from trees.

If the accompanying photos are any indication, the dangling yogis do indeed resemble some kind of strange fruit. The official TreeYoga website refers to trees as “yoga partners,” which strikes me as presumptuous in the same way I find tree-hugging presumptuous: how do we know the trees really want to be hugged or enlisted as partners?

Still, people have been meditating in or under trees for a very long time, and as I’ve written here in the past, many Central Pennsylvanians practice an annual tree-based meditative activity that probably resembles quite closely the paleolithic, ancestral form of meditation. And because they spend such long hours up there, staying as still as they can, they’re rewarded with all sorts of great wildlife sightings. One of the hunters on our property saw a bobcat from her tree stand this year; another saw a fisher. There were several red fox sightings, which surprised us a little because we haven’t seen any in two or three years, and had assumed they’d all been killed or driven off by the coyotes. And quite regularly of course the hunters draw the attention of small flocks of winter birds. I can only imagine a chickadee’s reaction if it saw a human hanging upside-down, chickadee-fashion, with the help of a TreeYoga swing.