Thursday, October 1, 2015
One could do worse....
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice storms do....."
I first became a "swinger of birches" when I was around 15 years old and growing up in New England. I was in college before I realized I had not discovered the art and science of carefully climbing nearly to the top of slender, flexible birches and, just at the right moment, thrusting my body out sideways and bending the birch to the ground. The first time it happened it was by accident and I thought I would die. Since I survived, I quickly learned more about the characteristics of birches and would repeat the ride on purpose. I'd bend dozens of birches to the ground. When I let go, they'd spring back a little bit, but remain bent for a day or two. It was fun to come back in a couple of days and see all the bent birches fully recovered and ready for another round of bending.
Around 30 years ago, when my middle son was 15, we were in the foothills of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, close to Robert Frost's homestead, and I had the opportunity to introduce my son to the bending of birches. Today, as I walked out to my car, I experiences a sudden wave of nostalgia as I saw our bent birch. It never fully recovered from the ice storm that struck several years ago. This storm was caused by neighbor's snow blower as hundreds of pounds of what we locals call Sierra cement were thrown at the tree, bending it all the way down until it rested on the garage roof. The above photo shows the extend to which it has recovered. It will never be able to give us thrill rides, just memories.
Frost's poem, Birches, written a generation before I was born, is evidence that I did not invent the practice. He ends the poem with "One could do worse than be a swinger of birches," and I totally agree. Between the opening lines quoted above and the closing line, there is much food for thought and I revisit this poem often.