Thursday, October 29, 2009

LX: The Way V

The Trees, the Trees, the Trees. The god-damned Trees.

I’m smoking again. A lot. My mouth feels raw, but it gives me something to do with my hands.

I laid under the familiar branches, cold, early Monday afternoon. “What is it, you silent things?” My arms were clutched to my breast. “Come on. Come on.” I’m pushing and pushing, and nothing is offering resistance.

“I can’t revolve around you anymore.” I walked home and dug a small hole in the middle of my front lawn.

"Is that what I think it is?" Clarke asked, approaching, pointing at a red pot beside me.


"In your own yard?"

"Yeah." With hesitant fingers I transfered Mrs. Scurfield's seedling from the pot to the hole.


I walked inside and made three phone calls: Mr. Hung and Birdie, Susan, and Mrs. Scurfield. I walked back outside. Clarke was staring at my Tree.

"In your own yard." He knelt down and patted the dirt.

"Clarke, you're invited to a party at my place. Tonight at 8."



The wind has knocked the leaves off many trees, but not mine. They are too dense, and so I've been watching the edges disintegrate; out there for hours, staring through the windshield.

I walked to the dump with Clarke yesterday, and brought my video camera. "How does it work?" he asked.

I handed it to him. "Try to get a shot of me walking."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

XLIX: Clarke X

“Hmm,” said Clarke.

I said nothing. We stood staring at the Trees from one of the winding pathways. He'd volunteered to join me on a mid-afternoon trek.

“So, this is what you do here,” he half-asked, half-stated. “Just look at ‘em?”

“Yes,” I said, embarrassed. Clarke examined some initials carved in one of the branches.

“So whadda you think caused it? Aliens?” He was mocking me a little.

“Yeah. Or something.”

“I meant the initials.”

“Oh. Ha. Good one.”

“'J.R loves K.T.’” he read. “It’s probably a code.” We stood listening to the wind. “They’re nice.” His arms pressed against the dying leaves.

“They’re scary."

“Yeah, maybe to a wimp like you.” He wandered off the path. I could guess what was coming. “They’re not so scary when you’re pissing on them.” I heard the sound of a zipper.

photograph by Ken Delgarno. More here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

XLVIII: Roger Shaw I

Transcript of phone conversation with Roger Shaw, Ph.D:

Me: …So, just to be clear, you’re alright with me taping this and then posting it on the internet?

ROGER SHAW: Yeah. Unless maybe you make a million dollars off it. [laughing]

M: [laughing] Okay, so my first question is, what drove you to want to study the Trees initially?

RS: Oh. Well. I think it probably has to trace back, I guess, to when I first heard about them.

M: When was that?

RS: When I was eight or nine. I'm from Minnesota. A relative from Saskatoon was telling my Father about these weird trees that grew crooked in Saskatchewan. I was listening in at the kitchen table. It freaked me out a little.

M: Really?

RS: Yeah. It felt like it should have been imaginary. So that frightened me. And then I walked into the room and saw a doodle my Father had been drawing while listening to the story. It must've had a strong effect on me, because when I was presented with the opportunity to study the trees as a grad student in Regina, I was quite enthusiastic.

M: Do you still have it by any chance? The drawing.

RS: I might.

Two days after the phone call I received an email with the above picture attached.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


A voice in my head today said, "Move to the city."

Another voice -emanating, it seemed, from the television and radio- said, "You must love the planet. You must." It's kinda scary.

Upon hearing of my 'Love the planet,' voice, Clarke said, "The planet's fucked. We're a disintegrating rock floating in space."

Susan leaned in for a kiss and squinted, whispering "I see you," at my beard.

Mr. Hung laughed when I asked what it was like to move here from San Francisco at 32 years old. "You have no idea," he replied.

Nope. I sure don't. But when I put certain albums on my stereo he looks at me and says, "Yes. You got it."

Birdie flew into Hung's today with a kiss for her husband, and a, "Hey Matt. Oh god, you should throw a party again."

Larissa looked quick at me and said, "So, you gonna call them or what?" An ice cream cone dripped over her knuckles.

Mrs. Scurfield and I met at the Trees again. "How are you?" she asked.

"Alright, thanks," I told her. "But this week, you talk."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

XLVI: Ashley Wade Linden I: Larissa III

Ashley Wade Linden. Former masters student under Dr. Bill Remphrey at the University of Manitoba. He wrote a paper called An Investigation into the Mechanisms of Shoot Bending in a Clone of Populus tremuloides Exhibiting ‘Crooked’ Architecture. Somebody mailed me a photocopy anonymously. It’s been spread out over my kitchen table for weeks, brushed aside occasionally so I can eat or so Clarke can set down his coffee.

Linden thinks the Trees might all come from one giant root. That’s interesting.

Last Saturday morning, at the beginning of my 9-day weekend, I locked myself in, made coffee, opened a new pack of cigarettes, and began reading the Shaw and Linden essays again. Eventually I ran out of room on the table and shifted some of the papers over to the floor. My plan was to spend the day in furious study, looking for a break somewhere in my understanding of the Trees.

At noon there was a knock on the door. Larissa Shapko. I let her in but immediately returned to my studying position on the floor.

"Whatcha doin'?" Larissa asked, following me inside.

"I'm studying."

"But you don't go to school."


"What, are you trying to be smart or something?"

"Yes Larissa, I'm trying to be smart."

She joined me on on the floor, kneeling, and took a closer look at one of the pages spread out over the hardwood. "Oh," she said with an intake of breath, "the Trees."

"You can hang out here a little if you want," I told her. "There's some snacks in the cupboard. But I really need to focus on this."

"Can I help?" she asked, running her fingers over a large book containing maps of Saskatchewan I'd pulled out for reference.

"I doubt it." I was trying to be nice.

Larissa looked at the title page of the Linden essay. "By Ashley Wade Linden," she read. I was concentrating on one of his more curious paragraphs.

Crooked aspen shoot leaning resembles, and might be attributed to, the inability to support itself due to poor strength. Whatever the cause, leaning appears to be the initial stage of shoot bending, and provides a cue for subsequent morphological and anatomical changes observed in relation to the gravity stimulus.

There was a tap on my shoulder.

"Yeah Larissa?" I said with amused resignation.

"Do you know him?"

"What? Who?"

"Ashley Wade Linden."


"How come?"

And then it occurred to me: I need to talk to these people. Remphrey, Shaw, Linden. I'll bet you I could.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

XLV: Friends of the Crooked Bush III: Meeting Adjourned

I'd stumbled long enough.

"Why do you think I hate the Trees, Mrs. Scurfield?" I asked.

She laughed at me. Quietly. Politely. In a way that was almost answer enough.

"I'd like to hear," I said, before she could begin.

"I don't know, Matthew," she said, straightening her jacket collar. "I think your hatred is a little bit ridiculous. But maybe you’re afraid that if you look it in the face you’ll see that it's unbeatable."

“Yes,” I said with all my courage, “that is my fear.”

“Well,” she offered, “I don’t know what to tell you. It might be better for you -in terms of your happiness- to just stay where you are right now, with all your questions unanswered.”

We sat in the stillness for a while.

“Happiness!” I repeated to myself. “Y'know, even if I was some genius and saint and heroin addict, hovering miraculously over the earth in -I dunno- transcendent, sinless bliss… Even if I was that, the Trees would still be there. They’d keep on growing and doing what they do. I’m not gonna to beat them.”


“I hate the Trees because I want to.”

“We established that already.”

“Then I don’t even know what I’m struggling against.”

“Try to stop thinking of it as a hatred, maybe,” Mrs. Scurfield suggested.

“Friendship, not hatred,” I joked.

“Yes,” she replied. “Like a friend you grew up with and never really liked, but are still forced to get along with. Like family.”

There was more to the night than that, but I’ll leave it there.

Susan thinks the club is just Mrs. Scurfield’s way of getting a date. Which is fine with me.

"Figuring out the Trees is like a task I've set for myself," I told Mrs. Scurfield at one point in the evening.

“Is that what you’ve been doing?” she asked me. “Because I thought you were just drinking a lot and wandering around town, smoking your life away.”

I love her.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

XLIV: Friends of the Crooked Bush II

“Okay, Mrs. Scurfield,” I said. “You win. I‘ll tell you why I hate the Trees. Or I’ll try.”


I wanted to get it right. But my mind was blank. “Forgive me if I'm a little incoherent,” I said. "Or tangential."

“We’re not in a hurry,” she whispered.

I was more than a little incoherent, and my speech was pocked with "umm," "well," "y’know," "like," "er," "uh." I won't transcribe it exactly. Each sentence took a minute.

“I get these moments,” I sighed, “where I realize that it doesn’t matter who I talk to or what’s going on, I know that I’m just gonna feel miserable and out of touch with everything.” I paused for a minute. “I’m sad, and it can’t be beaten. Or maybe I’m happy. I have no control. Or very little. It's chemicals in my brain.”

Mrs. Scurfield was paying close attention. “Mmmhmm,” she said, prodding my thoughts forward, though I hadn't yet begun to address her question.

“So on some level,” I continued, neglecting to explain what feeling out of touch had to do with anything, “the Trees just look scary and they’re a mystery, and they frightened me as a child, and that’s enough. I don‘t know. Maybe I’ll never be able to put my finger on what it is about them that bothers me so much.”

“Come on,” she protested.

The umm, uh, er, y’know's multiplied, and married themselves to longer pauses. “Well, maybe as I’ve grown older,” I said, “they’ve become a symbol.” I felt like I was just saying what I thought she wanted to hear. “Or not quite a symbol, but something -they have some connection to everything like nature and life and whatever.” My voice trailed off at the end. It was the worst response I could’ve imagined giving.

Mrs. Scurfield nodded. I felt a twist in my stomach.

“That’s not it at all,” I said, closing my eyes. “That’s too… Um, it’s too tidy.”

“I’ve heard that sort of thing before,” she said to me. “‘Too tidy.’ Yes. Tidy. I think that actually you have a good start there.”

“No. I don’t.”

“No?” she asked.

“It’s hard to put into words.”

“Of course,” she said. “But in this case words are all you’ve got.”

“Oh God,” I sighed. “I can’t believe how poorly I’m explaining this.”

“It’s alright. Think it through.” She was looking at me. I looked back and tried to read her face. It was impenetrable.

More soon.