Wind-Wandering Trees

felled 1879

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
  Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
  All felled, felled, are all felled;
    Of a fresh and following folded rank
                Not spared, not one
                That dandled a sandalled
         Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.

  O if we but knew what we do
         When we delve or hew —
     Hack and rack the growing green!
          Since country is so tender
     To touch, her being só slender,
     That, like this sleek and seeing ball
     But a prick will make no eye at all,
     Where we, even where we mean
                 To mend her we end her,
            When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
  Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
     Strokes of havoc unselve
           The sweet especial scene,
     Rural scene, a rural scene,
     Sweet especial rural scene.

~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Binsey Poplars”

Our farm is bookshelved between two poplar rows, one short, the other longer. The trees are showing their advanced age and struggle now with winter storms with heavy winds and icy build-up, branches shattering like toothpicks.

They will eventually, like Hopkins’ Binsey poplars, be felled before they tumble weakened and withered in a gale, landing where they mustn’t.

I will miss their blowhard boldness, their noisy leaves and branches, their dance in the wind and their orderliness as they stand like guardians to the farm. I’m being sentimental but there will be a sadness when it comes time to say goodbye.

Once they are gone, who in the future would know they once stood there, towering above everything else.

Unlike the poplars, I must leave something behind to be remembered.

Orchard in bloom with poplars- Van Gogh
Two Poplars in the Alpilles near Saint-Remy by Van Gogh
Avenue of Poplars in Autumn– Van Gogh Museum

Poplar trees Van Gogh

A new book from Barnstorming — information for how to order here

Pursued by Poplars





A row of Populus Nigra (Latin for “people of the dark”), otherwise known as Lombardy Poplars, seems to be following me.  I feel pursued by this long border of eighty-plus year old poplars on the west edge of our farm.  The trees themselves, supposedly nearing the end of a typical poplar life span, are grand massively tall specimens, their leaves and branches noisily reacting to the tiniest of breezes.  In greater winds, they bend and sway wildly, almost elastic.  The trees themselves are certainly not going anywhere in their hot pursuit of me, but beneath the ground is a remarkable stealth root system that is creeping outward, reaching inch by inch closer to the house.

That is what strikes fear in my heart.

If I leave those roots undisturbed for only a few months, they swell to arm size, lying just below the surface of the ground, busily sprouting numerous new little Populus Nigra along the length of the root.   These are no cute babyish innocent little seedlings.  These are seriously hungry plants determined to be fed from the roots as if from a fire hose.  They literally put on inches over a week;  they are over 6 feet tall in a month or two.   If I am not paying attention, suddenly I’m faced with dozens of new poplar babies, each sucking on a communal maternal umbilical cord.

I have no choice but to seek and destroy on a regular basis.  It is a shock and awe operation.  I’m shocked at the growth and awed at the strength of the adversary.   Many of these simply cannot be pulled up from the dust by hand as the process results in a root crawling many yards long, heading east toward the house like a heat-seeking missile.  To finish off the job, sometimes the root must be removed entirely by tractor.  I am here to certify that it is impossible to remove sufficient root system to stem the Populus Nigra tide.  It will always return, healthier than before.

I do have to admire this tree for its fortitude as well as its beauty.  As a wind break, it is unparalleled, its leaves melodious in the breeze.   It sheds its foliage as well as dying branches in the fall, messily scattering itself as far as arboreally possible, so tends to precipitate warming bonfires on autumn evenings.   Lastly, it makes for great artwork by the likes of Monet and Van Gogh, creating predictability, uniformity and symmetry both in their paintings and in the palette of our farmscape.

The poplars may be pursuing me but I enjoy the chase.  I gaze with appreciation at our row of poplars’ dark outline against the horizon during orange sunsets.  I miss their hubbub of constant activity when their leaves drop for winter.  Stripped naked, they wait in surreptitious silence for the rush of spring warmth and moisture to start creeping forward again, the gush of sap plumping up seedlings like balloons, once again growing clones against all odds.

My husband suggested it was time to take the poplars down before they break over in their old age, overcome in the strong northeasters.  I must disagree.  They deserve the chance to fight off our struggle to the finish to prevent infiltration beyond their defined border row.

Being pursued by a tree is never a bad thing.   I am humbled their shallow roots will likely outlast me even as I try to take them out, inviting me into the dust to join them.


Van Gogh Poplars in Autumnpoplars in autumn –Van Gogh


Van Gogh Avenue of PoplarsAvenue of Poplars — Van Gogh

From spring to autumn 1891, Monet devoted himself to the treatment of a new subject, the only one he painted throughout this period: poplar trees. He produced a group of about 20 canvases depicting the trees planted on the edge of a marsh situated on the left bank of the Epte, two kilometres upstream from Giverny. The site had been put up for sale during the summer, and the plan was to cut down these trees. After the mayor had refused to grant a reprieve, Monet found himself forced to pay a sum of money to the timber merchant to stop the trees being felled before he had finished the series. Having set up in a boat, he made the most of the perspective effect offered by the line of poplars, which followed the winding course of the river upstream, forming a kind of large ‘S’. He was then able to form decorative compositions that were built around curved lines and counterbalanced by the verticals of the trunks. Monet painted several sub-series, reproducing the trees face-on and reflected in the river, but sometimes he reduced the motif to the simple vertical line of the trunks. With this new series, the painter repeated the approach he had undertaken the previous year with the Meules. The titles echo those he had chosen for that first series. The aim was identical in both cases: to depict the variations in light and seasons. The ‘instantaneity’ of these paintings is meant to convey the impression one feels when encountering the subject at a precise moment. The poplars series was the first to be exhibited without any other painting, as a complete entity in itself, when it was shown in the Durand-Ruel gallery in 1892.

BriarCroft in Spring

the old pink dogwood revives every spring

What is all this juice and all this joy?
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “Spring”

poplar row behind the apple orchard

Awake! Awake! for the earliest gleam
Of golden sunlight shines
On the rippling waves, that brightly flow
Beneath the flowering vines.
Awake! Awake! for the low, sweet chant
Of the wild-birds’ morning hymn
Comes floating by on the fragrant air,
Through the forest cool and dim;
Then spread each wing,
And work, and sing,
Through the long, bright sunny hours;
O’er the pleasant earth
We journey forth,
For a day among the flowers.
Louisa May Alcott Lily-Bell and Thistledown Song I

a favorite rhododendron

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what.
~John Galsworthy

a happy day put out to pasture

At morn when light mine eyes unsealed
I gazed upon the open field;
The rain had fallen in the night —
The landscape in the new day’s light
A countenance of grace revealed
Upon the meadow, wood and height.
The sun’s light was a smile of gold,
Ere shut by sudden fold on fold
Of surging, showering clouds from view;
No sooner hid than it broke through
A tearful smile upon the wold
Where earth reflected heaven’s blue.
The sky was as a canvas spun
To paint the new spring’s nocturns on;
A blended melody of tints —
The sea’s hue, and the myriad hints
Of garden-closes, when the sun
Hath stamped the work of nature’s mints.
 ~William Stanley Braithwaite

a happy day put out to blue skies in the breeze


Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and green world all together,
Star-eyed strawberry breasted
Throstle above Her nested

Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within,
And bird and blossom swell
In sod or sheath or shell.”
–  Gerard Manley Hopkins, The May Magnificat

Kale going to seed


“A delicate fabric of bird song 
Floats in the air, 
The smell of wet wild earth 
Is everywhere. 
Oh I must pass nothing by 
Without loving it much, 
The raindrop try with my lips, 
The grass with my touch; 
For how can I be sure 
I shall see again 
The world on the first of May 
Shining after the rain?” 
–  Sara Teasdale, May Day

grape hyacinth and tulips

“Every spring is the only spring – a perpetual astonishment.”
–  Ellis Peters


“Some will tell you crocuses are heralds true of spring 
Others say that tulips showing buds are just the thing 
Point to peonies, say when magnolia blossoms show 
I look forward to the sight of other flowers though 
Cultivate your roses, grow your orchids in the dark 
Plant your posies row on row and stink up the whole park 
The flower that’s my favourite kind is found throughout the land 
A wilting, yellow dandelion, clutched in a grubby hand.”
–  Larry Tilander, Springtime of My Soul 


“Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.”
–  Robert Frost, A Prayer in Spring


“Poetry is the silence and speech between a wet struggling root of a flower and a sunlit blossom of that flower.” 
–  Carl Sandburg 

yew pollen

“With the coming of spring, I am calm again. “
–  Gustav Mahler

the first of dozens of peonies

The wealthy man is not he who has money, but he who has the means to live in the luxurious state of early spring.
~Anton Chekhov

Virginia Creeper starting to do its creeper thing



Canadian mountains to the north

“This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.
I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.”
–  D. H. Lawrence, The Enkindled Spring 


“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.”
–  Robert Frost 

spring sunrise over Mt Baker

“Hark, I hear a robin calling!
List, the wind is from the south!
And the orchard-bloom is falling
Sweet as kisses on the mouth.

Come and let us seek together
Springtime lore of daffodils,
Giving to the golden weather
Greeting on the sun-warm hills.”
–  Lucy Maud Montgomery, Spring Song


“If you’ve never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom.” 
–  Audra Foveo 

Sam stops to smell the tulips

“It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”
–  Mark Twain

someone is looking his age….it was a rough winter

“Every year, back comes Spring, with nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants.”
–  Dorothy Parker   😉

See BriarCroft in Summer, in Autumn, in Winter,
at Year’s End