Deviation and Beauty

The red maple up past the McKinley Elementary School playground on Emerson Street, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is etched on the backdrop of my mind like a permanent screen saver.  A symmetrical outline, the tree turned crimson every October for exactly one month.

As a kindergartener looking up the street from my Grandma’s side yard, the tree represented perfection to me.  The first time I noticed it was probably when I was pushed in my stroller up the street and someone, my mother or grandmother, gave me a red leaf from the ground.

Later, Grandma ironed one under wax paper for me to keep.

When my mother worked at Checker Motors and I entered McKinley school in the morning kindergarten, I stayed with my grandparents during the days.  I used to gather leaves from under the tree by myself.  Each leaf, shaped like a small hand, matched my own as I picked it up and placed it in my palm.

When I looked up into the leaves, the light sparkled, dappling my view of the world around me.

Red trees stir me with their deviation from the norm, their place in the firmament of “all things counter, original, spare, strange” (Pied BeautyGerard Manley Hopkins)  Like the passion of tender new peony shoots against a backdrop of green bushes, the red tree blazes against greenery, blue sky, or dreary human-drawn landscape.


On a related note, I am wondering if I am obsessed with trees.  I’ve written about the palo verde, the elm, the plum, and more.  If I didn’t have this paper trail of evidence leading me to the source of my obsession, I couldn’t have told you that this is one of my writing topics.  I recognize my obsession with writing about family and my childhood, but I didn’t see the trees until I looked back.

In her seminal book Writing Down the BonesNatalie Goldberg suggests:

Writers end up writing about their obsessions.  Things that haunt them; things they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be leased.

She insists that obsessions have power.  “Harness that power,” she urges.

What are your writing obsessions?  If you look back at what you have written, can you identify an obsession you didn’t realize you had?


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory

20 responses to “Deviation and Beauty

  1. Well, this really got me thinking because I have always (as a person and a writer) been a bit obsessed with the tragic, even when my outlook is +++

  2. A lovely story I can relate to. I am absolutely obsessed with trees. They have this power of stirring emotion within and feeding the imagination. I have blogged a few times about one tree in particular – and when I am in “Nature Photographer” mode, my main subject is usually…. trees. Thanks for posting this!

    • lucewriter

      Janice, I love that you’re obsessed with trees, too! Yes, they do feed the imagination! Enjoy your special tree!

  3. I am obsessed with trees too, always have been. I dream about them and mainly see them everywhere I go. Birds are another obsession. I guess they go together. Thanks for this beautiful image and reflection

    • lucewriter

      Teresa, that is so cool that you are obsessed with trees. I wonder about birds. There are probably people who are obsessed by one or the other, but not both, but I believe I am also obsessed with birds. You might be more obsessed, though, because I do think you write a lot about birds in your poetry, don’t you?

  4. Thanks for these thoughts–yours and a few of Hopkins’. I too am fond of trees. Let me think now….trees; family trees that go back to before we were human; a human link to trees (food, shelter, fuel, beauty, god) that goes back to before we were human….

    • lucewriter

      Wilma, thanks for your thoughts, too, which I always enjoy immeasurably! I wonder how many cultures have found divinity living inside trees?

  5. I saved a leaf from a tree in Vermont. I can’t find the leaf now. I know I never tossed it, but have no idea where it went. I also have no idea what my obsessions are. Gonna have to think about that.

    • lucewriter

      I hope you find your leaf! Go back through your writing and I think you will find your obsessions. Perfect lawns, maybe? hahaha

  6. Luanne,

    this is a lovely meditative moment about trees, family and observation. One observation that can be made is the symbolic relationship between families and trees… you aren’t so far from your favorite subject as you think perhaps!

  7. Interesting thoughts on obsessions. Overall, I write about family and my childhood, but have whittled that down to “home,” which seems to be an ongoing theme for me. Having one, losing one, feeling at home, and things/people that feel like/remind me of home. I have noticed I have more of an obsession when it comes to photography. I tend to photograph bridges and overpasses, sometimes roads…to home?

    • lucewriter

      Cheryl, how lovely! All the paths leading back to home. Absolutely beautiful! I noticed that you wrote a memoir about moving so often, so that makes sense that this would be an obsession. Your inspirations Mary Karr and Tobias Wolff are two of mine also!

      • I just discovered a blog, The Ambiguity of Fences.
        It is a blog of pictures of fences. I’m hooked! Can there be a tie-in with bridges and homes? I think so!

        • lucewriter

          Wow, that sounds so cool! I’m sure there is and you’re reminding me of Robert Frost (the famous quote from “Death of the Hired Man” and the famous quote from the fence poem “Mending Wall.”

  8. exiledprospero

    I don’t have to wonder–I am obsessed with trees (the moringa tree, the neem tree, the majestic baobab, the prickly pachypodium…) But, speaking of red, I am also infatuated with the tiny ruby jewels called Lithops optica ‘Rubra.’ These so-called living stones are absolutely darling (and looking very red this time of year).

    • lucewriter

      Oh my goodness! You’re on Devil’s Island? This sounds like such a wealth of trees! So exciting! I thought these were African trees?

      • exiledprospero

        Well, they are (except for the neem and the moringa–though moringa trees grow in, and can probably feed, Africa). None of the trees I grow are from here–it’s just my obsession with trees (and growing plants from seed), and Africa! The lithops, whose seeds are like dust, are also from Africa. Where else?

  9. Pingback: My Tree Fetish | Writer Site

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