Annual Rings


The bucked piece of spruce stands end-on in the snow.

The years catch my eye, all laid out there,

A concentric story plain as newsprint.

I set down the maul, and read.

Here at the tiny center it started,

Eager, young, steady eighth-inch rounds,

A lucky stem, happy in the sun.

Then some narrowing, a gradual bending out of round,

Some shading or competition maybe, to the southeast or southwest.

Thirty-five rings out, a stub of branch

Starts, then ends, swallowed up, thwarted.

A spur that ended only as a hard knot.

More years of rapid growth, another narrow decade.

Lean times, dry or cold or cloudy summers.

Eight decades out, a black line on one edge here – fire scar.

That one catches my eye.

Yes, I think, it had burned up there, a small area on the edge of the airstrip.

That time the rains must have come quickly after the lightning,

And kept on coming for a few days.

Getting out there now, 110 years,

Still a few good years,

Sixteenth of an inch or better, 

As this past spring came on, dry and cool after a cold dry winter, the life was out here,

At the flowing and growing edge,

This year would have been a very narrow ring,

Almost invisible without a glass, just beneath the rough and tumble bark —

But there will be no ring.

The bark is burned completely black on this chunk.

About 130 years on, it didn’t squeak by this one.


Wide rings, narrow rings, wide rings, thwarted knots, charred scar… more growth,

All those days in the sun, all those summers storing up, reaching, and now all black around.

Pick up the maul again.

Cleave it with a single swipe – the rounds just fall apart in this deep cold.

One final burn, and up the chimney.

Another Solstice past,

We survivors all start round the sun again.



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