CLE + Joy: The Forest City

I grew up in the trees. Although we started arguing before I could talk, Frank the Forester spent a lot of time with me in the woods.

My first December, I was plopped in the cut greens as he prepared Christmas trees. My puffy snowsuit, patterned with primary-colored geometric shapes, prevented me from rolling away. Soon, I’d be decorating the half-tree in my bedroom, one of three Christmas trees in the house.

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Christmas 2013: My first adult tree

As children, he guided Will and I through our Shaw Road woods regularly, fostering our love for the sublime “Super Sugar Maple Tree,” venturing down to the Black River, playing catch with monkey balls. Sometimes I’d worry that a tree would fall on me, and I’d use that as an excuse to beg to leave. As we left, he’d spray the shaving-cream-like sanitizer in our hands, and we’d pile in three to the bench and me straddling the gears to ride home. Speeding over the tickle bump on Chippewa Road.

One winter, my brother and I were left alone in the Christmas trees beyond our backyard pond. Dad had cut down several dead and overgrown evergreens to make way for new ones. We dragged those trees, at least eight, to make a circular wall, piling the sappy trunks above our heads, warm in that fort of green needles.

In middle school and high school, when my parents guilted me out of laziness, I’d help Dad sell Christmas trees. I wandered through the rows, at home in the dark silence of the snow and green. Sometimes he’d run with me through the rows, always warning me to watch for the holes from already-dug-up trees. When there was enough snow, I’d walk right behind him, still stepping in his bootprints like he’d instructed when I was too small to make my own path.

I felt a little more at home when I recently found out that Cleveland is known as the Forest City. I was also suspicious as, compared to Chatham Township, the city seems far from forested.

I’ve been to two cemeteries since moving to Cleveland. Those and the trees lining the RTA tracks on Shaker Boulevard are the extent of my nature experiences here. My goal in this city is to get in those trees. Not the ones strategically planted in parks but the ones bordering wilderness.

The trees are subject to humanity but always created by God. They are always beautiful, creating shade and color and air and quiet. Where do I find it – that quiet wild, that collection of towers I will always fear? I want to be suppressed by the pure creation. I want to be in that innocent, proclamatory worship.

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