On Monday, flying back into Houston from Seattle, I suffered from a mutated strain of brown shock. On my first trip to Houston seven and a half years ago, the city stunned me with its greenness from the air. I’ve never seen a city so densely planted with trees, and now after months of almost unrelieved drought, millions of them are dead and dying. From the air, acres of trees, loblolly pines in particular, look toasted by the sun.
John Clare’s “To a Dead Tree” is marred by sentimentality but one line is pertinent and worth salvaging: “Thy honours brown round thee that clothed the tree.” Over the weekend and during the flight I was reading the Collected Poems of Geoffrey Grigson (Allison & Busby, 1982). I had already associated the Dutch elm blight of half a century ago with the drought’s mass arboricide when I came upon Grigson’s “Driving Through Dead Elms”:
“Elms have died, over a green land
Is each, here, there, a leafless sad
Black upright drawing. It is
Winter in summer.
“Through each delicate dead drawing
Sky shows. In some are black
Nests. But no rooks are in and out about
New life cawing
“Before leaves are coming. Why must that
Which is all the time here, be now
Winter in summer?”