Tree Skin

By VIVIAN FAITH PRESCOTT

I bend to earth. My fingers trace woodworm tracks along a beach log. I hold a frog in my hands and see patterns of mottled green. I’m looking for patterns. My Southeast Alaska landscape is woven on spruce baskets. On my walks, I’m like the ancient weaver who noticed a tree’s shadow reflecting on water. She moved her hands as if she weaved air. Later, with spruce roots between her fingers, she weaved the-shadow-of-a-little-tree on her basket. In her ancient Tlingit belief, the shadow of a tree is evidence of the spirit inhabiting the tree. The spirit is woven in shadow pattern, which becomes the “spirit of the basket.” The Lingít word aas daayí means tree bark, yet also describes the physical shell of a human being—aas daayí. In the Tlingit worldview, personhood is connected to the spirit of the trees, that is, people and trees share the same skin.

The weaver sees patterns: tracks-of-a-woodworm, the intestines-of-a-little-bird and rough-like-the-skin-on-a-frogs-back. She walks along the pond edge. The light wanes and it starts to rain. A diamond-like pattern in her mind’s eye: the-drop-of-liquid-after-the-splash-of-a-raindrop-when-it-meets-with-the-smooth-surface.

I share the same intimacies. I kneel close enough to see woodworm tracks, notice the shadow of a tree, the splash of raindrops, and the skin on frog’s back. I touch the tree bark, thick with whorls of life. I place the basket I’ve woven on the ground. Daylight shifts and a silhouette moves across the lid of the basket, and I stand quietly in the shadow of a tree.

 

Vivian Faith Prescott is a 5th generation Alaskan born and raised in Wrangell, Alaska. She is of Sámi and Suomalainen, and Irish descent (among others). She is adopted into the T’akdeintaan clan, and her Tlingit name is “Mother of Cute Little Raven.” Her poetry has appeared in Kingfisher, Drunken Boat, Explorations 2000, Explorations 2001, Avoset: A Journal of Nature Poems, Tidal Echoes, Ice Box, Permafrost, Cutthroat and Cirque, and she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in Poetry (2011). 

Tree Skin

Related Posts

A tree growing in a bucket. Twisted branches spiral upward from the large green basin the tree sits in. It's a sunny day in the woods.

Ugly Trees

HEATHER E. GOODMAN
We have a really ugly sugar maple in our front yard. Yard is a euphemism for dirt and weeds. Dirt is a euphemism for clay and rocks. Weeds is a euphemism for invasive species and exhaustion. But we love this ugly tree.

Signage in New York City at night. A lit vertical sign reads BROOKLYN, above a movie theater sign and a colorful sign for an ice cream parlor.

After Darkness, a Neighbor Turns the Lights On

HANNAH JANSEN
Not so much that the darkness disappears / but that after linked, round globes appear / on a humdrum weeknight under the trees, / I start noticing them everywhere, / glowing in their various iterations

A shattered porcelain shard of a city drawing laid on a white background.

How Memory Works

TIM TIM CHENG
We see the newspaper for tomorrow, not tomorrow / It’s already midnight. Today that is. News that stays / warm and inky on our fingertips at 2:30 am.