“Two Trees” Come Back from the Dead


About a 120 years ago, Joe Sexton

planted those eucalyptus for the beautiful fun of it,

lugged them up, mules probably,

water casks sloshing on the way--

though some say they were meant

as beacons for ships,

but they never needed a purpose;

nature's beauty modified, curated,

tended like our darling local crop,

living tableau in a plein-air museum.

Those Aussie trees were brought for railroad ties,

but they twisted and turned like pythons,

so they became windbreaks for orange groves,

and oily fuel for fires to this day.

So vandals burnt them, more than once,

as hillside fires hovered near.

Thirteen became eight, then five, then two,

but along the way the City decided

those trees could stand for Ventura itself,

perched on flowing hills, noble markers,

our backdrop like a living movie set,

and so declared them preserved, historic.

You had to cross forbidden land,

know the entrance points at the base of hills,

still hundreds, thousands, traipsed the paths,

worn first by deer and coyot’, then sheep and cattle,

each spring needing eager bushwhackers

to re-groove the trails in our crazy sugar-sand.

You smelled the tansy and lemonade berry, skirted poison oak,

took the twists and turns that opened new views of them,

surprise surprise, look at them now!

hoping they’re okay again, so loved they were—

loved to death.

Trampled land and garbage injured them

and the endless drought,

but selfies on their sides finally did it--

initials, lovers’ marks, nasty wishes,

carved into their pale colored bark

etched into their living underskin

and they wept and bled, those giants,

with wounds that killed them.

We’re not getting it—

things that stand for us need us as we need them.

We’re diminished by their falls;

the wind blew over the next to last the other day,

blowing us off as lousy gardeners of nature’s fragile crops;

those trees are canaries in our coal mine.

It’s all going now, the hills, canyons, barrancas,

and the beaches, tide pools and bays,

--developers of course want them--

but our cars, trucks, trains, and ships have overrun them

pounding the roads and rails the trees once overlooked,

spewing blankets of fumes into the sky,

heating the place, our only place,

despite the denials of the willfully blind,

etching the planet with our signature:

“Killjoy was here,” our mark of blight and damage.

We can bring them back, we can replant a tree,

soon lots of hillside may be ours to own, enjoy,

conserving, preserving, reserving what’s left of them,

opening their vistas to the many.

But unless we live lightly on the land,

let the sun power up our world,

they’ll be zombie trees, half alive,

or we’ll be replanting them for seasons to come,

re-makes, quick replacements

returned from the dead to speak their truth to us—

“Though no longer wild, we’re not just for you,

but need you, good gardeners, tending every inch of land and sea,

to keep us for ourselves and the little you need and take.

Or else, you’ll hear us crackling with flames,

like the millions dead and burning everywhere,

with fires that no one can put out.

So plant a tree, and love it the rest of your life.”

2017 10 12


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