This Arbor day, restore your emotional equilibrium by hugging a table leg.
Let me explain. You might be surprised to learn that Arbor Day is Friday. Sigh: It just won’t be the same this year. Oh, you can take joy in the recollection of Arbor Days past — the parades, fireworks, lusty voices raised in song as we sing Joyce Kilmer’s famous bad poem. We all know the first couplet: “I think that I shall never see / a poem lovely as a tree.”
It’s memorable — and dumb. You don’t see a poem, you read it or hear it. The second verse is, well, a bit too much information, as they say. “A tree whose hungry mouth is prest / Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast.”
Now I see all trees as upside-down woody leeches with mouths, so thanks a lot, Joyce.
To be honest, I wouldn’t know it was Arbor Day if I hadn’t got an e-mail from some PR person offering to put me in touch with arborists for interviews. I wouldn’t know what to ask, really. I don’t think much about our trees, as they seem capable of figuring things out on their own. Now and then my wife will get on a pruning spree, which leaves the tree looking naked and resentful: “Hey, I was using that branch, OK? Do I come in to your house and hack off toes you don’t seem to need?”
I always sigh when it’s pruning time and note that I like the wild, natural look, which she somehow hears as “I’m lazy and don’t want to get on a ladder,” possibly because I am lazy and don’t want to get on a ladder.
Anyway. If I did talk to an arborist, I think I would speak for all of us with the following series of questions.
“Hello, Tree Expert. Happy Arbor Day! The Kilmer poem is wrong about trees having mouths, right?”
“What? Oh, that. No, only the Wizard of Oz trees have mouths. (Chuckles.) You could say that the complex root system is, in its own way, a mouth, because the tree takes in nutrients ...”
“OK, so they have no mouths and can’t cough, is what you’re saying. But can we still get coronavirus from trees?”
(Pause.) “There are no known instances of the virus leaping from trees to people, no.”
“Could you get coronavirus if the tree picked an apple off its branches and threw it at you?”
“Well, the apple would have to be infected, and you’d have to handle it, then touch your face. But again, I have to stress, you are worried about fictional trees.”
“OK, well, what about ash borers? Could they jump from a tree, get coronavirus from someone, then jump back to a tree, and the dog sniffs the tree, and his collar brushes up against the bark, and he brings the coronavirus home, and you touch his collar and then you eye itches so you rub it?”
(That stumps him.) “Would you like to know about how hot weather stresses trees? It’s been a wet year, but trees still need ...”
“Don’t change the subject. What about Dutch elm beetles? When I was a kid they painted glue on elm trunks to trap the beetles. What if we put glue around our waists to keep the coronavirus from crawling up our legs where the dog had brushed up against us?”
“As I understand it, the virus does not crawl. And besides, I’m a tree surgeon, not a physician.“
“You’re right, I’m being a bit paranoid. So, back to trees. Let’s say my face itches, but I don’t want to touch it — is it safe to use a leaf to grasp a branch and use the branch to scratch my face?”
(Pause; bored voice.) “I don’t see why not. Anything else?”
“There are trees on my property that don’t social distance. I’ve got shrubs so close together I think the neighbors might call the cops.”
“Have a nice day.” (Click.)
There’s another reason you might want to plant a tree for Arbor Day. The government of Iceland has advised that people who need some comfort should go hug a tree. (Source: treehugger.com, so I’m pretty sure it’s legit.)
From a story in the Iceland Review:
“When you hug [a tree], you feel it first in your toes and then up your legs and into your chest and then up into your head,” enthuses forest ranger Þór Þorfinnsson.
Either that, or you’re standing on a low-voltage power line. The article also says that Mr. Þrorfinnsson recommends several five-minute hugs each day.
Hmm. The trees planted on our boulevard by the city are still rather spindly, and I fear I could be so overcome with emotion I would snap them in two, and then I would be overcome by grief. There are more substantial trees nearby, but here’s the thing: How do I know it wasn’t previously hugged by an asymptomatic carrier?
At this point you’re probably thinking that no one this stupid could possibly be employed by a major metropolitan newspaper, because that is the silliest thing you’ve read.
I mean, everyone knows you wear a mask when you hug a tree nowadays.
I don’t know if we’re under an edict that prohibits nonessential arboreal embracing, but if so, consider restoring your emotional equilibrium by hugging a table leg for Arbor Day.