Monday, April 12, 2010

Hemlock Ghost

Hemlock Ghost, April 2010

Donald Culross Peattie:

In the grand, high places of the southern mountains Hemlock soars above the rest of the forest, rising like a church spire — like numberless spires as far as the eye can see — through the blue haze that is the natural atmosphere of those ranges. Sometimes even its branches reach out like arms above the crowns of other trees. But though the Hemlock’s top may rejoice in the boldest sun and brave any storm, the tree unfailingly has its roots down in the deep, cool, perpetually moist earth. And no more light than a glancing sunbeam ever penetrates through the somber shade of its boughs to the forest floor...

Approaching such a noble tree, you think it dark, almost black, because the needles on the upper side are indeed a lustrous deep blue-green. Yet when you lunch on the rock that is almost sure to be found at its feet, or settle your back into the buttresses of the bole and look up under the boughs, their shade seems silvery, since the underside of each needle is whitened by two lines. Soon even talk of the tree itself is silenced by it, and you fall to listening. When the wind lifts up the Hemlock’s voice, it is no roaring like the Pine’s, no keening like the Spruce’s. The Hemlock whistles softly to itself. It raises its long, limber boughs and lets them drop again with a sign, not sorrowful, but letting fall tranquility upon us.

- from Peattie's A Natural History of North American Trees


James Golden said...

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

Laurence Holden said...

Peattie's words are so beautifully symphonic. But now and here in these Southern Appalachians, the Hemlocks are dying. So his words sound now like that of a ghost, and of a world gone under and lost. Like that last movement of Mahler's 9nth where the sonorities all crash up against one another and collapse into a funereal dirge.