Thursday, August 12, 2010

For the Berkeley Tree Sitters

When Moses instructs the Israelites about besieging a city, he warns them not to cut down the city’s fruit trees. He asks, “Are the trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?” (Deuteronomy 20:19) The sense seems to be that the trees can neither defend themselves nor be hostile, and are therefore hors de combat. When I was working on this portion, a group of tree sitters who had been encamped in a grove of oaks on the UC-Berkeley campus, were forced to come down. They had been protesting the university’s plan to clear the trees for an expansion of the football stadium.

The last of the trees’ defenders descend from the crown
like australopithecines testing the feel of the earth
on their delicate soles. Twenty-one months, they nested
in the crotches, draping the limbs with bracelets of rope,
assembling their hideaways over the knees, where the trunks
bent abruptly, searching for light. On their perch,
even the eating of energy bars, the layers
of garb became a dumb show, their every gesture
intended to sing: We are no more important than oaks.
In the end, interposing the body, frail as a bud,
between the keen blade and the heartwood seems silly,
outlandish as much as it’s brave. Still, who will defend
the trees of the field with the sitters besieged and brought down?

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