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.

A Brisk Rant

autumn blue sky on a brisk morning
Autumn blue sky on a brisk morning.

This morning, the sky’s autumn blue was the richest I’ve seen so far this year–electric-looking, stung with freshness. It was a morning in which I’d like to have been hiking. The word “brisk” comes to mind (if we can separate it from mega corporate-peddled iterations of iced tea). Yes, I’m reclaiming “brisk,” taking it back from convenience store shelves and returning it to the kinds of things it used to describe, like walks on chilly mornings, or breaths that tighten and tickle the lungs. I acknowledge I may be out-of-touch with consumer trends. If the word “brisk” conjures in my mind bottles and cans of iced tea, then I may be the one with the problem and not the consuming public or the marketing and advertising firms that¬†promote the brewed (hopefully) beverage (I envision machines mixing water with a patented “tea syrup” in giant vats, with tasters on the side determining the degree to which the substance mimics iced tea). Is Brisk Iced Tea still around? I guess my next trip into a gas station might answer this burning question, which I truthfully don’t really care to know the answer to, if I’m being honest. I don’t care. This is just the direction this blog happened to go.

It’s clear to me now, though, that the problem is at least partially mine. Maybe on some level, it’s society’s problem, but I’ll just own it for now: I resent the way companies hijack legitimate words for the purpose of making money. Like “monster” and “wrangler.” I guess the logophile in me resents that consumer products come to mind when those words are used, often before their original meanings come to mind. I know–first-world problem. But culture hinges on language, and associating a word with a mass-produced beverage before associating it with what it actually signifies has a way of easing us up the slope and into the shallow end, intellectually speaking.

This very blog is an example of how this phenomenon works. All I wanted to do, when I wrote the first sentence of this post, was praise the quality of the autumn sky’s blue. I found it inspiring. It had been cold when I was walking outside, but it was that sunny kind of cold that seems more palatable than the cloudy kind, so I was inclined to find it invigorating rather than uncomfortable. And the intense shade of blue that served as a backdrop for the trees struck me as a uniquely autumnal thing–particularly late autumn, when trees are almost bare but a few orange-brown oak leaves still stubbornly cling. And what’s the perfect word to describe a cold, invigorating breeze? You guessed it: brisk. Except when I landed on that word, I also landed on the idea of that rather unsavory form of tea that exists in bottles on convenience store shelves and in twelve-packs of cans in grocery stores. It then became difficult to separate the meaning of “brisk” from the marketed product that bears that same word as its name. But it didn’t stop there. Soon, one of the beverage’s slogans came into my consciousness: “That’s brisk, baby!” Except it’s not! It’s high viscosity tea syrup in a can, and tastes of chemicals and artificiality. I’m not a fan.

So I ranted.

For a less angry, more appreciative, and generally happier post on consumerist culture, read this: http://alandrue.com/in-the-mall-i-was-in-the-mall/.

the author
Alan D. Tucker
Content Blogger,
Essayist, & Novelist

Silence Speaks Loudest

From the first of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies.

And maybe that’s why we fear it. Possibly, the title made you think of the silent treatment we give those who’ve wronged us, but that’s not what this is about. This is about the silence of nature and of the cosmos–the deafening roar of an empty house, how its newly cavernous dens and bedrooms (when we find ourselves alone) press in with a sound more profound than any human voice can render, much less a TV or a radio–the dryer drum spinning incessantly with its metal-on-metal crack of blue jean buttons. Silence is a sound made up of no sound (abstraction is the only way to render this), when we stare into the void and it stares back at us.

But the sound is not altogether hostile. Have you ever taken a long walk in the woods with no agenda–no deer to harvest or no mileage to meet before dark–and found yourself pausing to listen. But to what? Not even the birds are whistling. Maybe the occasional whisper of pine boughs lets drop a message you’d swear is only for you. Maybe you honed in on a specific whisper and called it God.

When we listen to silence, she speaks. I’ve believed this for years now, though I don’t always listen. I’m as susceptible to modern life’s distractions as anybody–the television’s drone is a comfort, however superficially, and my Spotify playlists grow ever more tailored to my musical taste, which makes them hard to ignore when I’m driving here and there.

One thing I do have going for me, however, is an immunity to the need to always be talking. Dr. Joel Fleischman of the nineties show Northern Exposure is a New Yorker transplanted to a backwoods Alaskan town as a way to pay for his expensive education by serving as a general practitioner to the town’s eccentric populace. He misses everything his quiet moments try to teach him, because he won’t shut up. You probably know the type. You may even be the type. If you’re a Fleischman, I implore you to face down the terror of your quiet, alone on a trail or in your living room with TVs and radios and oscillating fans turned off. If you’re not a Fleischman, then face it down anyway. It may accomplish nothing, but in our harried world of ceaseless distraction, amid all the noise grasping at our attention, there’s something noble in being stubbornly quiet, in being quiet on purpose. It’s like holding up a middle finger to those homogenizing forces that would have us sequestered like cattle in pens, oblivious to our impending slaughter. Maybe a voice will speak to you out of the silence.

Alan D. Tucker
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist