October 10, 2020

A man and a tree

 10 years ago, we lost one of my favorite college professors, Dr. Jon Wallace. He was the advisor for our student newspaper and guided me through my editorial responsibilities of hiring, firing, and managing a crew. When the University administration was upset at what I wrote in my columns, he called me into his office to tell me that more people were reading the newspaper than ever before. He pushed students in our writing courses. To this day, I believe I use more of the skills learned from him in my daily life than those from my biology professors, but please do not share that with them...

Just as I was graduating college, I noticed a unique photo hanging in his office. After hearing of his passing, I wrote this poem in a matter of hours. It is a true story about a man who meant a lot to me and many others, and a story about a tree and a photo. You can find it published in Cursed with Wings: and other Frustrations

Life is uncertain. Life is not fair. But we all leave our mark on the world, in some way--even if that mark is etched in the sky.

A man and a tree

I once knew a Man who took a photograph of a Tree.
The photograph amused me, as the Tree was near my grandparents’ house.
A tall Cottonwood on a hillside.
The Tree marked a corner where our car always turned toward town.

When I was young, the Tree had seemed enormous with leaves dancing in summer winds.
Cows swatted flies in Its shade and thought slowly about staying cool or moving to find water or grass.
I remember struggling awake from a nap in the car, but knowing where we were because I could see that Tree.

The Tree in the photograph had aged a bit, but so had I.
Maybe it was too many cows or too much rain or maybe trees just get old,
but the Tree had lost Its leaves, lost Its bark, and lost Its cows.
The smooth, massive truck stood stark-white against the lush grass of the hillside.
Chunks of branches lay where they had fallen, and the photograph captured the sun struggling to rise above the stunted arms of the great Tree.

It was odd to see that Someone Else had noticed the Tree, as it had always been something I saw but never mentioned to anyone.
One of those private markers along life’s paths, with no conversation value.  
But, there It was in His photograph.  
The Tree near my grandparents’ house, and a sun rise I had never seen.

And, this Man.  
I didn’t know He took photos, just as I didn’t realize He had ever known my Tree.
Odd.  But, I remembered Him each time I passed the Tree after that.  

Last month, I turned this corner and noticed the Tree was gone.
It had completely dissolved into the Earth.
Not even a stump; just an empty hillside.
But along the curves of the sky, I could trace where the Tree had once stood.
Branches straight and long, leaves green and quivering in the breeze.
It was still majestic in Its absence.
The Man and the Tree.
An Eternity carved into my mind, marking a corner of my world.

L. Powell, 16 October 2010
For Dr. Wallace

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