Anniversary Edition (November 2023)
Tongues in Trees
By Sharon Whitehill
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And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks. –As You Like It
Long before Goodnight Moon was composed,
I said hello every night to my pillow, my lamp,
and my woolly orange blanket: a cozy reunion,
after the long day apart, with companions alive
and as connected to me as the family cats. An outlook
my parents indulged, dissipating as I grew up,
a human habit of mind that sees each living
and non-living thing as a being, a self.
A lost gift, Wordsworth opined, which he equated
with memories of heaven that fade as we age,
though according to Freud it’s merely an immature
cultural stage superseded by reason and science.
Not so different, to me, from the woman
who thrilled to the image of Jesus, burned like a brand
on the tortilla she scooped from her griddle.
Not unlike those wee faerie folk in green scarves,
light dancing around them, acknowledged not only
by Scottish villagers but by the Galloway doctor
who hid from them on the dark road as they trooped past.
Perhaps we too easily dismiss such a pre-pagan ethos,
everyday objects and places imbued with mysterious magic.
Like Mauna Kea, the mountain revered as the eldest
of ancestors god in Hawaii. Like Taranis, thunder deity
of Roman Celts, but also the thunder itself. Like spirits
who live inside the masks of the Bwa people of Mali
and Burkina Faso.
Projection, psychologists say: ideas and feelings
imprinted on concrete locales. And yet they survive:
in the storm hag of Scotland who washes her tartan
until it turns white and falls as the snow; in the divinities
of the tribal Malaysian Semang, who dwell in stone pillars
and under the earth; in sacred Navajo beings like Ma’ii,
the coyote, Niltsi, the wind, or alien gods like the Monster
Who Kicks People Down Cliffs.
And even the otherwise secular person who once
had a vision of all things in nature as one:
every tree, leaf, blade of grass, he said, lit from within
as if incandescent. Such moments, most often granted
to mystics and very young children, serve others,
serve me, as a humbling reminder of how small we are
in the vast network of being.