Monday, June 1, 2009


My friend June and I love Paint Your Wagon, the 1969 mining-camp musical that starred two of my childhood movie-heroes, Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, and introduced my eleven-year-old imagination to the mystery of Jean Seberg. My nostalgia goes even further. At Gilliland Junior High, my buddy Carlos and I mumbled out a duet from the film in music class. Looking at our feet, we sang, “I was born under a wandering star,” figuring if Lee had the cojones to sing it in public, well, we did, too.

Paint Your Wagon
was shot on location in Pine Valley, Oregon, the hometown of one of June’s and my mutual friends, the late Bill Baird. Bill’s brother was actually on-set as an adviser. Everett was a master of the pioneer art of driving a team of oxen. Bill told us Everett was caught on film driving a team himself. Unfortunately, June and I waited too long to watch the movie with Bill so we had to use our imaginations a bit to identify his big brother.

Right about now you’re probably wondering: how does Paint Your Wagon relate to Mary Oliver? Well, if you’ve seen the movie, you might remember the scene in which Clint sings, “I talk to the trees,” as he ambles through a summer-lit pine forest, pining for Jean Seberg. As for talking to the trees, he laments, "but they don’t listen me." In Ms. Oliver's poem, “When I Am Among the Trees,” not only do they listen, they speak.

I came across this poem in Thirst (Beacon Press 2006) during a break from reading an anthology of contemporary poems that were challenging my abilities as a reader. Simply put, I was exhausted by them. How refreshing it was to read a poem by someone who has been listening so carefully to the world, who is willing to make herself vulnerable by sharing what she's heard, and who can write so well.

I hope you enjoy this poem as much as I did, and you, too, can “go easy” in this world—if only for a moment.

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."

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