Roadside Trees, Devourers of Ego

roadside trees, I-65, Franklin, TN

Roadside trees show us nature’s indifference. It wasn’t always this way. Was a time when I could watch the trees fall away as I drove by and imagine all manner of stories unfolding just inside the treeline. Meaning was inherent in the trees, as well as magic, mystery, and beauty. But lately, they’ve become constant reminders that wildness waits at the edges of civilization for its chance to retake what has always been, and will be in the end, hers. She knows that for all the roads and skyscrapers and shopping malls we may build, for all the fields we may pave and the clouds we may pierce with our flying, silver tubes, our time is limited. We will return to her. And when we do, she’ll swallow us up. I’d add that she also will forget about us, but that would imply she knows us in the first place, and I’m not sure that’s the case: we don’t personally know the buzzing flies that slip into our open doors and harass us; we merely swat them away so we can go about our day less annoyed. Is nature not more indifferent than us?

I talk about nature like it’s a person, using feminine pronouns and attributing human actions to it. Sometimes she does feel like an adversary, with predators and viruses and hostile conditions. Other times she sustains us, both with beauty and with food. Anyway, this will become tiresome if l continue, for the roadside trees tell me that there are no groundbreaking ways to write about nature. Everything I might write has been written before, and better.

Roadside trees don’t just spread their message from the shoulders of the interstate, of course–they’re much more thickly present on country lanes, where people are less distracted from their own mortality. As an undergrad, I was enamored of the movie Braveheart, and by extension, its soundtrack, which I still think ranks among the top movie soundtracks for its depth of feeling, and for its ability to convey human pathos via its dark and beautiful themes. Once I was fishing with my dad at some pond out in the country near Reelfoot Lake in northwest Tennessee, close to where I grew up. I was probably twenty-one, still obsessed with Braveheart, so that soundtrack was often playing in my head. Dusk was fast-approaching, and a warm, glowing pink had begun to form opposite the setting sun. The pink was bracketed by the trees on the other side of the road–it was the kind of sky one only sees in summer. To my youthful, idealistic mind, with that bagpipe-heavy music playing in my head, the scene seemed to have so much meaning. I couldn’t tell you what it meant in any concrete terms, but it held something of destiny. Back then I believed in destiny–destiny and beauty were inseparable.

Now I’m okay with things just being what they are, and that includes roadside trees. I still create meaning, but in different ways: it’s not as simple anymore as assigning meaning to a natural setting, with nothing more than a song and a fuzzy feeling to back it up. There’s no more facile forcing of narrative onto my surroundings. The trees along the interstate no longer reflect my mood; they are not a manifestation of me. Yet they are no less beautiful. In fact, they are newly beautiful, because now I allow them to just be (like they needed my permission). They never needed my influence, even when I needed to project it onto them.

Alan D. Tucker: content blogger, essayist, & novelist
Alan D. Tucker
content blogger, essayist, & novelist

**I’ve written a lot about trees. Here’s one I particularly like.

Commuter Blues: Two Sides to the Long Drive

Detail from a John Chamberlain crushed car sculpture

A long commute can be nice. What I consider long is thirty minutes or more, which is what I graduated to when we moved from the urbs to the burbs. My morning drive morphed from three miles into twenty-seven. Indeed, when it was only three miles, I’m not sure I even qualified as a commuter. Doesn’t the term imply a lengthy drive? Anywho, what a drab topic, right? What can happen in that thirty-to-forty-five-minute haul is the real meat of this blog post.

Within that climate-controlled space, my tires a coarse whisper on the pavement, more music at my fingertips than was ever possible at any point in the history of the world, and the solitude inherent in traveling solo—within that space, I’ve written poems; I’ve witnessed the condensation of a bison’s breath on a frosty morning; I’ve seen cascades of ice clinging to walls of limestone, and sky so wide that eighty miles-per-hour felt more like flying than driving. Significant passages of my Masters thesis were hashed out on Interstate-65. All that time alone with my thoughts was bound to produce something.

However, there’s a different side to the commuter life: I’ve also seen a windshield covered in blood; a woman sobbing so hysterically I wondered how she could drive; and wide swaths of rolling pastureland cleared of trees and leveled for the construction of office buildings, whose utilitarian aesthetic insults the natural beauty it replaces. The other night, I was jarred by the sight of a fully-lit construction site, not far from where I drive past the two bison every day. What an incongruity in a place that otherwise would be supporting cattle. Now they’re abusing the night sky, too, I thought.

Yet I know accidents happen, and hearts get broken. I know we need office buildings. I know that, as a family who moved south of town a few years ago, we’re partially responsible for the progress that is disrupting the landscape. All one can really hope for then, at the end of the commute, is that transcendence outweighs dullness, and that beauty reinvents herself, after she’s taken a hit. For mortality is always on the road with us, and sometimes he rides our bumper.

Alan D. Tucker, MA
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist

A Dispatch from the Surging Swell

A solitary consciousness, crying out from the surging swell, but using no words: this is the nature of the quiet desperation at the heart of human experience. Does the loneliness sneak up on you? Are you uncomfortably made aware, on the morning commute, of the unavoidable isolation of being conscious? It seems an irony befitting a race that sees its death approaching from earliest youth, like a mountain that anchors every landscape view, no matter where you stand.

But even if we couldn’t see death’s approach, would we do things any differently? It’s a legitimate question. I don’t know that I would watch any less or any more Netflix, or indulge any less or any more in the things I routinely indulge in (hello, Reese’s cups). Would I bother writing? Or is there something about that pale horse and its bony rider that compels me to document these ranging thoughts; to labor away, in the pre-dawn hours, at fiction and at memoiristic meditations on the poetry of Rilke? Probably, on some elemental level, there is something of the dread behind these efforts.

Yesterday I was driving home from my eldest son’s piano lesson, and the sunset caught the trees in such a way that the part of me that responds to art welled up of its own accord (the “of its own accord” part is necessary–it’s how I know I’m in the presence of great art). My first impulse was to take a picture, but I was driving, and I knew that my phone couldn’t capture the true essence of the sunset anyway. So then I thought about how often our first impulse in the presence of beauty is to try and capture it, and then I was hit with the sadness of our inability to do just that. Isn’t there just so much that we wish to do, but we can’t? Beauty can’t be bottled, and there aren’t enough Instagram filters to make an experience communicable to another person. There’s a tremendous sadness in this.