Opening the Oak Door
In contemplating how best to honor Poetry Barn’s Indiegogo supporters, I gradually became obsessed with the metaphorical possibilities of the oak tree. We are blessed with a beautiful location in Catskill Park, a 700,000-acre forest preserve which includes many noble oaks, and is happily protected from many forms of development.
Predictably, my first thought (best thought?) involved the common notion that from tiny acorns mighty oaks grow. But as I researched the oak, I unearthed less cliché aspects of its character, each of which seemed to confirm its appropriateness as organization mascot.
For example: How it grows slowly, becoming a repository of experience and wisdom. How it ranks high among wood types in strength and knowledge. How its sheer mass attracts lightening (and once struck will continue to thrive), as poetic inspiration is oft said to strike.
Moreover, the word "druid" derives from the Celtic term for oak “duir" and the translation of duir is "door.” Celtic lore, then, tells us that druids accessed the ethereal planes of higher thought and epiphany by "opening the oak door."
When I read the following poem by Walt Whitman, my oaky intentions solidified:
I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing
I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend near, for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
I know very well I could not.
Though our tree is not a “live-oak,” nor is our barn located in Louisiana, Whitman’s poem echoes beautifully my conviction that the Poetry Barn would not exist without its friends. Thus, I am thrilled to honor them with an oak tree art installation. The work's designer and architect, AnneLouise Burns, exceeded my expectations in creating a sculpture of outsized, overjoyed beauty—its gorgeous green leaves inscribed with our friends' names testifying to the grace and fecundity of our community.
May our oak tree, both figuratively and literally, continue to leaf out as our canopy of friends widens and puts down deep roots. Enjoy these photos of the tree-making process, and many thanks to our dear friends for believing!
The tree is currently inscribed with the following names on individual green leaves:
Alexandra van de Kamp
Annie Sue Brannan Walker
Brenda Mann Hammack
Jaime Lee Jarvis
Jeanne Marie Beaumont
J. Stephen Rhodes
Malaika King Albrecht
Molly Sutton Kiefer