This time, my visit to the woods was more intentional. I wanted to go deliberately, and gain some deeper understanding of the history of the place along the way. Something that popped up frequently for me was carvings in trees. Hearts with initials were the most common, but there were other words and symbols left behind for posterity.

This one made me laugh, but also stop and ponder. Did someone add the “?” after the heart was there, in order to be funny? Did they not recognize the names? Or perhaps some infidelity was afoot. Gasp!

It occurred to me through these many tree-as-canvas examples that a key feature of human beings is our desire to leave a legacy. The sign at the entrance of the Woods, proclaiming its eternal place in the history of the Underground Railroad. The carvings on the trees to mark love that may be lost, or may continue to this day. Perhaps even the pieces of litter down by the lake are a cry out to be remembered.

This one also set my mind wondering. Were Dave and Tracy declaring they were “just friends” with no romantic attachment, or that they were Friends with a capital F? Given the graduation year (at least I think it says ‘84, possibly ‘89) maybe Jim will know.

As Levi Coffin was growing up just north of these woods, with his Meetinghouse on the other side of them, he described them as a “refuge”. Certainly, that is an accurate name for them in the historical sense – but also in the personal and spiritual sense. In A Winter Walk, Thoreau offers the audience the chance to be cleansed by the purity of winter, by going out into the cold and snow that so many have hidden away from. But I believe that as the scope of rejection of nature has grown, so too has nature’s ability to cleanse us and free us from the weight of everyday life.

This tree’s carvings are impressive to me. I can look into the carved branches and picture someone scrawling the design in, their foot resting in the saddle where the branch meets the tree.

It’s something that has led me down to the lake many times now since my first trip with my friends. But now I go alone – often turning back or heading into the woods if the lake is already occupied. I’m not sure if it’s my fear of people or my inner transcendentalist demanding the kind of solitude that breeds real reflection. Either way, I hope one day I can sit on the swing and see someone else approach the beach without my skin itching and telling me to leave.
I hope one day I can sit and feel that I belong, and that no one has come to chase me away.

Some of these carvings are so wide (or perhaps just old) that they seem to be part of the natural pattern of the tree. Some, like “JS” at the top are deep enough that you can really feel the desire to be remembered in the carving.

I don’t think i’m going to be doing any tree carvings any time soon. Not that i’m passing judgement on those who do, as I know all too well the wish that those who come after me will remember me. But I don’t want the trees to shoulder the burden of my legacy. Already they carry so much emotion, from love and elation and freedom to misery and bondage and heartbreak. They’ve got enough going on without having to sport my initials, and all the life and personhood that comes with them.

One thought on “Tree-Hearted”

  1. I wish I knew about Dave and Tracy, but I don’t. I love how you’ve focused on this beech tree and the human history it conveys!

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