Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Birches (Bill Morrissey)

This has been one of my favorite songs since I became involved with the contemporary folk music scene over a decade ago - what I find fascinating is that my interpretation has changed over the years. I used to believe the woman in the song was sad and lonely - now I understand that she's found compromise ("she thought of heat, she thought of time, she called it an even trade").

It doesn't take a therapist to realize my feelings have mirrored the circumstances of my life - during the first twenty-five years of my marriage, R traveled quite a bit (twice a month, a week or more at a time). I've always been a strong and spirited soul and, even when the children were younger, we just talked about the time he was away, not as better or worse but different. I belonged to AAA (although AA seemed more appropriate some days... kidding!), I learned to fix small household items, I became responsible for my own entertainment - when it had to be done, I did it. The worst were his two-week trips, when I didn't want to relax and appreciate having him home the weekend in-between, because it just meant giving him up again - I learned various coping mechanisms, but I missed him...

The last six years have found R home more, and the rest of us having to readjust, awkwardly at first, but happily - he and I have always had separate interests (my music, his soccer), meeting in the middle more often than not for hit-and-run conversation, intimacy and intensity. Now it feels less sad/lonely and more balanced - we have made a conscious decision to stay together in this hectic and unsettling world. I crave and cherish my independence, but I don't worry any more that I'll have to "give in" (reminds me of Dar's "I still need the beauty of words sung and spoken and I live with the fear that my spirit will be broken") - we seem to have forged a wonderful agreement whereas we both manage to get our own way a good bit of the time, but we haven't forgotten the art of the happy medium.

In R's card to me yesterday, he thanked me for my enduring love and patience with his failings - I can say the same... and I am humbled...

SONG: Birches by Bill Morrissey

BOOK: The Passionate Buddha: Wisdom on Intimacy and Enduring Love by Robert Sachs

POEM: Birches by Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

QUOTE: "Love’s a fire, but whether it’s going to warm your heart or burn down your house, you never can tell." ~ Joan Crawford


  1. I do love that song, have ever since you played it for me however-many years ago..sigh...I still hear her as sad/lonely, maybe that will change over time?

  2. Hey, M ~

    What a difference a decade can make, at least from my own point of view - I love that I've been able to gain a fresh/different perspective of the song, as my frame of mind has segued from wistful to content (although the journey was most certainly a rocky one at times... as you can attest, dear friend... :-)