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Barbara Walking in the Valley
A weekly column for those who live and walk in Silicon Valley

by Barbara Dahlgren

I Think That I Shall Never See...
Column for the week of April 27 - May 3, 2003

"I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree....” Did you celebrate Arbor Day this year? Do you know when Arbor Day is? Do you even know what an arbor is? Do you know how Arbor Day came to be? Do you care?

An arbor is a tree, but I guess “Tree Day” didn’t sound as glamorous as Arbor Day to J. Sterling Morton. He and his wife were nature-loving pioneers who moved from Detroit to Nebraska in the 1800s. Nebraska must have looked a little desolate because Morton, editor of the state’s first newspaper, used every opportunity to advocate individuals, groups, and civic organizations planting trees. It wasn’t just the beauty of the trees he missed but he realized the agricultural benefits, too. They were needed for windbreaks, fuel, building materials, and shade. So successful was his campaign that in 1885, Arbor Day, observed in April because of Morton’s birthday, became a legal holiday in Nebraska.

To quote Morton, "There is no aristocracy in trees. They are not haughty. They will thrive near the humblest cabin just as well as they will in the shadow of a king's palace. There is a true triumph in the unswerving integrity and genuine democracy of trees." Did that guy love trees or what?

Other states passed similar legislation. The most common date to observe Arbor Day is the last Friday in April. Some states in the far south or north vary this date so they will have the best tree planting weather. Many other countries celebrate Arbor Day as well. It has become a tradition in schools, too, as they plant trees and study about them at this time of year.

This academic study almost always includes reciting the poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Joyce was from New Jersey and worked for the New York Times until he gained fame as a poet. To be perfectly honest I always thought Joyce Kilmer was a woman but not true. Joyce was a man who died on a battlefield in France during World War 1 at the young age of 31. A guy who is named Joyce has to be brave. Joyce Kilmer was also a Christian, which I think comes through loud and clear in his poetry.

“A tree that looks at God all day, and lifts her leafy arms to pray.”
“Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.”

What amazes me is how someone can look at something ordinary, like a tree, and truly see the extraordinary. I look at a tree and see leaves, bark, limbs, and roots. I might even go so far as to see building materials, fuel, and shade. But Morton saw more than that. And Kilmer saw something quite spiritual. I wonder how much beauty, wonder, and life I miss by looking but not seeing. So much goes unappreciated.

Kilmer starts his poem by saying, “I think that I shall never see....” Sometimes I think that’s my epitaph. I look but I don’t see the wonder of what’s really there. Perhaps that can only come through a closer relationship with God. Only when He opens our eyes to see what is truly before us will we be able to appreciate the wonder of His creation.


©April 2003

Be sure to visit this page every week to read the next edition of Walking in the Valley. You can write to the author at bdahlgren@wcgsouthbay.org.



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