“I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.”

Joyce Kilmer


 A tardy spring has erupted like a housebound child awaiting the passage of foul weather. Pent up with unseasonable cold and snow, the business of spring is finally off to the races.

Consequently my writing output has suffered, as it does every spring. I too, find the pull of outdoors irresistible when the smear of delicate greens grace the trees. Every spring I am stunned at the array of greens that emerge from the treetops. Mere words like “soft,” “mellow,” “pastel,” “bright,” “verdant” and even more, fall short in adequately describing a leaf’s unfolding.

This year the looking at the newness of trees started in March. Our family eagerly rendezvoused in Kauai to meet little Eleanor, my first grandchild. The newness and blessedness of her anchored me in awe every morning when she was handed to me for our quiet stroll out onto the open deck to greet the day. This is a ritual I hope she carries throughout her life.

During our shared morning time, I was captivated by Eleanor’s discovering the world. I need to reclaim that sense of newness of unveiling a place and moment. Imagine if each of us started the day with a template of discovery?

Eleanor’s stare pulled me in, like a silent siren, for close inspection. Look closely and you will discover that her pupils are dark starbursts. Look even closer and you will see that the points of reflection are actually palm trees.

On these shared mornings, our gazes were targeted in different directions. The trees seemed rooted in the morning of her eyes. And my stare was locked into her peering.

The pair of four-month old blue eyes moved back and forth hypnotized by the palm trees swaying in the morning breeze. She was mesmerized by the dance of fronds. In fact, her attention was mostly directed to the trees more so than to me, her proud Opa.

This fact gave me great pleasure, as it is my grandest hope that she is imprinting on the natural world. I hope that the trees sear an indelible image deep into her growing brain igniting a  fireworks of synapses and emotional fodder. This is the stuff that can be the catalyst in forging a love for wild places and critters.

While Eleanor could not be distracted by the flowing palms, I was awakened, almost surprised, by the distinct gift of “nowness.” I cannot remember having this feeling of being so very present when my two daughters were only months old. Back then, as a new father, I was in my thirties. Now I am easing closer to seventy rather than sixty. Do I know more? Do I appreciate more? I like to think so. Certainly I don’t take the gift of life lightly. Staring at this baby, who shares my DNA, is an exercise in confronting my own mortality. I am coming to realize that I am easing, not always painlessly, towards my disintegration.

Eleanor’s dad, Ben, is a pediatrician in the U.S. Army, based in Seoul, Korea. He is patient with my questions about a child’s developing vision. When I mention Eleanor’s focus on the trees he shares that at this young age, she likely can focus on objects within twenty feet. Beyond that, it is a world of contrasts and more black and white. The trio of swaying palm trees is more like fifty feet from us. So it is likely the movement and the contrast of darkness against a morning sky that has grabbed Eleanor’s attention.

I want to believe that Eleanor’s gaze is born from an ancient attachment humans might have to trees. After an aquatic nine months in her mother’s waters, Eleanor is connecting to a terrestrial life. Her journey is not unlike her ancient ancestors journey, moving from the open grasslands of the African savanna towards trees.

Perhaps it is in the gathering of my own years that I have discovered that my granddaughter will not likely reside in a biosphere as healthy as the one I grew up in. That saddens me. Are the natural systems in a more desperate state? Yes and that is why I will continue to work towards helping Eleanor and others understand our role in protecting and nurturing biological systems.

And it is why Eleanor must start each day communing and wondering about trees and other bits of the natural world.