Within the line of maple and apple trees that exists to gather the stuff of nature into the recognizable cartography known as our farmland, and standing above a thorny mess of wild raspberries and chokecherries, stands a tree called ironwood.
It's branches remind me of the rays of the sun on icons of the sun god. From up close, they are gnarled and confused. They twist in every direction, bearing leaves only at their ends, and it seems to me that they labour long for their reward. (But then, these leaves are like the ideal of leaves; and well worth waiting for.
They are shaped like my childhood idea of a leaf, like an almond. And they are that so-green green, and pointedly-edged. They flicker in the wind between their green-green tops and lighter undersides, so that I can't tell if I am looking at green or grey.)
But from afar, the local vagaries of the branches' turning paths fade. Instead, it is clear from afar that their courses actually bear unerringly outwards and upwards. I see that for whatever tangents taken, this tree's intuition of its needed destinations in the sky feast that is photosynthesis is as breathtakingly beautiful, as pure and secure as any other feat of mathematical calculus.
The ironwood tree faces the west, its shadow falling across our backfield, which this same tree and the line of trees to which it belongs prevents people from seeing. For the same reason, onlookers are unable to see the forest beyond the field and, since the forest is in a shallow valley of the field's making, they are equally unable to see the sun setting above it the way one can while sitting below the ironwood tree.
I find myself staring at these three things: the tree, the field, the forest, in the same way humans of my ilk have always stared. On one hand, much as in the preceding paragraphs, I am trying to find the corollary to my life's permutations. The branches of the tree, fallibility, choice. On the other hand, more deeply, I am trying to understand something else. I have no idea what it is.
I am told that the ironwood tree is so named because the wood grows to such hardness that it's barely worth burning, is so hard that it can be used as the base to split softer, weaker wood. It's fitting that in nature it is the hardest tree that plots the truest course and with such meandering whimsy.