Imagine the earth before walls and spires, before buildings and towers, before the sky was scraped or Babel fell to pieces, even before fire was tamed or hands raked the dirt into mounds. Then, only trees stood.

True, plates pushed together and forced the ground upwards, stone winnowed away from stacks and arches, lava burst from the seams and cooled pointing up. But these shapes just sat or leaned, only trees stood.

Then, trees were the only forms truly perpendicular to the horizon. Unlike the moss and ferns and lichens that smudged along their ankles and trunks, trees reached to heaven. Possessed by the sun. Fed by it. In constant conflict with one another, slowly racing ever taller. Claiming a fullness of light that the moss could never swallow.

Not all trees grew exactly straight. Some followed the rocks below, or held together the loam of a hillside. But each tree reached, against all else, to the sunlight.

Reach is an ancient word. Reading its etymology yields many more siblings and children than parents. To me, the meaning feels abstract, maybe even metaphorical. But the word is old, primal, base—perhaps as old as language itself.

Just the same, trees have reached to the sky for millennia. A monument to the resilience of life, straining against gravity, against the wind and elements, against the earth that formed them—yet somehow in harmony with it all.

Years ago, I cut down a living tree for the first time. The first strikes oozed out sap. It was a slow, messy process. Green wood like that bends and flexes, it doesn’t just split.

I thought that I would feel more in touch with nature after. Like I had somehow participated in an older way of living, or taken on some inherited, but forgotten role in the forest. But instead I felt sick. I had killed something so pure, so removed from ethics and morals and so perfectly part of its world. I had broken something that could not be fixed, and I did it for nothing.

Behind the house I grew up in, a fat honey locust looms over all and drops little spiders into the flowerbeds and cracks in the pavement. Across the yard, black walnuts slowly choke the soil as they lean into the ravine. A hawthorn grows taller and taller in the absence of pines and a beech that once blocked its path. We cut them down years earlier.

Now, I can see myself standing in the yard, staring between the branches into a cloudless sky. My bare feet are squirmed into the grass. I feel something crawl along my toes—but my eyes stay.

The breeze hurries through the corridor between the house and firewall, pushing against my chest, drying my eyes. To my left, a pear looks over the ripe raspberry patch. To my right, the branches of a crabapple hang heavy. Almost ready. Everything churns in anticipation.

But I’m not waiting for anything—or so I thought. No fruit will fall from my limbs—or so I thought. No October wind will shrivel my leaves—or so I thought.

But I am reaching, I am reaching. From root to leaf, sole to crown, I am reaching.

Yet no spring will come for me—or so I thought.

Jack Van Allsburg

Studied psychology and writing, works at a design firm. Film junkie, amateur photographer. (’16)

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