Growing up in Vermont, Robert Frost was naturally a part of my life. I can’t recall at what age I was introduced to this marvelous writer, teacher and observer of the outdoors and rural life, but at a very young age I felt connected to him. Always thick, heavy, hard-backed, and full of words expressing a shared view of the outdoors, I have checked out his books from the library over and over since the age of ten. Finally there was someone who saw, felt, and understood the natural world like me! I think we would have been good friends had he not died 14 years before I was born.
In the woods across the dirt road from my house, if you followed a small brook as it bubbled through mucky channels and underneath fallen logs, you would reach the bending birch. I discovered the tree with my best friend who lived down the road as we roamed and explored the woods just like we did every day. Instinctively, I reached up to grab the bent trunk but was too small to grab ahold. So I jumped up, reached high above my head…and missed! Determined to succeeed, I spent the next several visits jumping and reaching for that solid gray arc. When I finally curled my fingers around the solid trunk I was thrilled! Now I could swing, bounce, spin my body around and around on it, do pull ups, or just dangle in hopes of stretching myself to add inches to my height!
The birch tree gave me much more than a new playground on which to spend endless amounts of time. To this day I can still feel the smooth, papery bark slip across my palms as I struggled to hang on. When I moved my body, the entire tree moved with me – sinking low toward the ground, swaying side to side, springing up toward the sky. The trunk was very pliable, adapting to the conditions and pressures that it faced such as strong wind or heavy snow that might have otherwise snapped it into pieces, thus ending its life. The birch tree was resilient, flexible, and strong.
I see qualities of the birch within myself, qualities that perhaps I learned early on in life as a swinger of birches. Life is full of external and internal pressures that take thier toll on us physically, mentally, and emotionally. If we allow them to break us and we fall crashing to the ground it is very difficult to get the whole self back up and put together again. Faced with such pressures, I am reminded of that mighty birch tree and its ability to bend and flex, adapting to its current situation, always bouncing back into place once the stress is gone, and ready to take on the next big wind that is trying to blow it off course.
To read Birches by Robert Frost: http://www.online-literature.com/donne/742/