I watch hemlocks stretch into the sun and dip their branches in the water, I’d like to think some boy’s been swinging them. They tip to grow ever taller, reaching for the extra square foot of sunlight. A warm spring breeze combs through the tops of riverside conifers and paper-dry beech leaves resurface from a winter light on snow. The hemlock roots, covered in moss and wintergreen, tangle deep below the riverbank—but trunks aren’t so invincible. Some are tipped or toppled by a storm, bent down to stay as ice-storms do, some victim to an ambiguous deadfall snap, as if the inner dome of heaven had fallen, yet the best trunks,bowed so low for long, are most tempting for swinging. Did ambition make the trees lean taller? Did greed make the trees fall farther? The low branches of these hemlocks dip into the water, evergreen needles weighing them down. Dead needles of near hemlocks and further pines are scattered across the riverside—a steep bank that encourages these tilted trunks. Perhaps then, the tree was ought to grow crooked.
But just a few yards away I next notice a colonial granite fencepost, the type that only a minister could likely earn, the type that was extracted, chiseled, and lowered into the earth here centuries ago by some sensible mason. He likely lowered several slabs as vertical support for the marking of a boundary. The fencepost now sits in the riverbank sunken, not straight like a cemetery stone, but tipping alongside the trees. Centuries of current have sunken the stone’s balance, tipping it out over the river like one of those precarious hemlocks.
At first saplings shoot up straight. They soon begin growing limbs to compete with others around. Sunlight becomes scarce. The river catches twigs in its teeth and pushes on its corridors. I age the hemlocks upwards of 80 years and wonder what will make them snap.