a backyard spruce 

  by JoAnne Growney 

   Will this spruce

   be felled for paper,

   become a poem?

     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

remembering a backyard spruce


In 2003 when I returned to Bloomsburg from six weeks in Alaska, I  became  emphatically aware that my West Fourth Street house was too large for me.  In 2004 when my first granddaughters were born—in Virginia and in Maryland—the center of gravity of my family moved south from Pennsylvania. Though my old, frame Victorian with four levels and ten rooms had been ideal space for the sprawl of a family with four children and was wonderfully full again when a group of them visited, the balance of travel shifted from my home to theirs.


I began to think about leaving.


I looked around at what I would leave behind.  Not my friends.  I did not allow myself to think those links could loosen.  We would always connect.  But I would cease reading the Press-Enterprise on the wide front porch of the yellow house, cease to enter the red door to the foyer that led to a broad eighteen-step stairway up.


In the small yard behind the house stands a shaggy evergreen.  Planted during the Second World War, this tree had for years hidden behind the robust branching of a maple but it filled out when the maple became diseased and needed to be cut down.  I considered the tree—and decided to study it and remember.  It would stand for Bloomsburg.   



remembering a backyard spruce (2)


Basho,* Japanese Haiku master, said:  “Learn about pines from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo.”  I liked this idea.  I stopped searching for information on the Internet and in books.  I began to observe the tree.  And then to photograph.  Not surprisingly, each photo disappointed me—I am inexperienced with a camera and do not make best use of light, so the tree was fuzzy or dark or my clothes line stretched across in front.  I could not capture the tree.


Basho foreknew my difficulty.  Of Japanese cherry blossoms, he wrote:  “We cannot arrest with our eyes or ears what lies in such things.  Were we to gain mastery over them, we would find that the life of each thing had vanished without a trace.”


*The Essential Haiku:  Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa,  Ed., Robert Hass (NY:  HarperCollins, 1994, p. 233).


Here, then, are a few fragments:  some words and shadows of one of  Bloomsburg’s Norway Spruce.    


JoAnne Growney, 2006

Photos to be added soon.



 the spruce.


 Backyard companion—

 rooted and  flexile,

 straight and alone.

Young limbs reach for sun 

but the weight of years 

drags old limbs down. 


Curled, mosaic bark : 

red, orange, yellow— 

colors of age. 


Wind gusts groom the spruce—

and I

clean up the droppings.


If spruce carpets had

vacuum cleaners, they’d be

noises eating needles.

The Methodist church

and the spruce both cast 

a pointed shadow.


When I climb

to high windows, my spruce

seems higher too.


A droplet sparkles

at a needle’s tip—

then falls.


A telephone line

hangs near; the spruce listens

to the squirrels.


Cone jewels dangle  

like a thousand earrings—  



A knotted sock  

thrown to a branch by a boy— 

a neighborhood flag. 

 First to break

 in a storm is the branch

 heavy with cones.


 A spruce is home

 for mourning doves

 that coo and go.


The heart

of a spruce is unknown

until it’s cut down.


©2006 JoAnne Growney


Dark needles drab  

in autumn sky—tomorrow  

a crown of snow. 


The midnight spruce 

probes the Big Dipper  

and feathers the moon.