But actually, without branches
or roots, it wouldn’t be a tree.
I mean, it would just be a log.
Wallace Shawn in My Dinner with Andre, 1981
The title of the book published in 2014 by Trinity University Press immediately conveys the message inside.
Despite the promise of the title and your wish for it to be possible, you know it is not. W.S. Merwin almost could have stopped there – a perfect reduction of words to express concern for the environment.
But your desire to believe a toppled tree could be healed in a magical way that “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” failed to achieve for Humpty Dumpty and the lyrical prose of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer entice you inward:
Start with the leaves, the small twigs, and the nest that have been shaken, ripped, or broken off by the fall….
The soothing silverpoint drawings illuminating the inner cellular life of trees by Liz Ward, a professor of art at Trinity University, lessen the fear of approaching the immensity of the task of righting a tree.
Finally the moment arrives when the last sustaining piece is removed and the tree stands again on its own. It is as though its weight for a moment stood on your heart.
Walking the Mission Reach along the banks of the San Antonio River as it wends its way southward makes one wish all the towering trees that shaded the river for centuries before mid-20th-century bulldozers eradicated them for flood control could be “unchopped.”
Alas, the dictionary fails to include the word in its inventory of things that can be undone for obvious reasons.
So great patience is required as the San Antonio River Authority painstakingly strives to restore the natural habitat, sapling by sapling.
A Chinese proverb reminds us:
One generation plants the trees;
another gets the shade.
For, to heal our environment, as Merwin advises in Unchopping a Tree:
Everything is going to have to be put back.
March 16, 2019, Update:
Mr. Merwin’s ardor for the natural world took frequent root in his poetry….
Stylistically, Mr. Merwin’s mature work was known for metrical promiscuity; stark, sometimes epigrammatic language….
Lawrence Lieberman wrote…. “The poems must be read very slowly, since most of their uncanny power is hidden in overtones that must be listened for in silences between lines, and still stranger silences within lines.”
“W.S. Merwin, Poet of Life’s Evanescence, Dies at 91,” Margalit Fox, The New York Times, March 15, 2019