Tuesday, October 25, 2011

`Winter in Summer?'

The first time I visited Albuquerque almost twenty years ago, friends warned me about “brown shock.” To a lifelong Northerner, the Southwest can appear monochromatic and blighted. Green is sparse and muted, and visitors must learn to live with a new palette.

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
Visible—the winter,
Winter in summer?”

1 comment:

Helen Pinkerton said...

By following the Houston temperatures through the drought, I imagined what was happening to your trees.
The article you cite sadly confirms my worries. In Woodside, CA, our trees lived through several bad winter droughts. After an especially dry one, a magnificent elderly Port Orford cedar--rare in our part of California--fell victim to a beetle infestation and had to be taken down. The native oaks (quercus agrifolia) did much better, as did the Douglas firs and redwoods. Condolences to all of you.