Sunday, December 15, 2013

wizard trees

I have been having a bit of a one sided conversation with Anne Ursu, children's book author.  She does not know me.  But through the world of social media and her writing, I am feeling a bit in a relationship with her.

I recently read her book Breadcrumbs, a sort of modern day fractured fairy tale version of the Snow Queen meets Narnia meets...well...lots of different children's books.  I loved it.  Especially because, as I read it, I felt as though I was being surrounded by many of the children's books I loved as a child and have loved reading with my children.  Like a blanket.

But also, Anne Ursu is a smart and intuitive woman.  And she says things like this:
Now, the world is more than it seems to be. You know this, of course, because you read stories. You understand that there is the surface and then there are all the things that glimmer and shift underneath it. And you know that not everyone believes in those things, that there are people—a great many people—who believe the world cannot be any more than what they can see with their eyes. But we know better.
Anne Ursu, Breadcrumbs

And this.

It’s a plié. You do it on all the positions. It’s very good for dramatic moments. 

Anne Ursu, Breadcrumbs

She's funny.  

And she's, says the Mainer in me, wicked smart.  I have been reading her thoughts about middle grade and young adult literature.  And she makes me think.  In very good ways.
By taking curse words out of context and hand-wringing over sex and darkness in books, we’re completely denying the realities of teenager’s lives—pretending if we keep them from curse words we can keep them pure and innocent. That draws a gulf between kids and their parents—forcing kids to present the same sanitized version of their lives to their parents that their parents are trying to hand them. And in the space between the sanitized version and the truth, that’s where the real darkness lies.
She said this here.  Worth the read.

Last week I was working on something else.  And doing some research for yet another thing.  And was having trouble pulling my thoughts together.  It was all a bit confuzzled up there.

And then, I realized that all I needed to do was to choose to not be confuzzled.  To give myself some moments for quiet, to pull in, to ground myself.  And do a bit of reading.

It’s all going to be okay. She would like to hear that now, even if it was a lie. Because some lies are beautiful. Stories do not tell you that.
 Anne Ursu, Breadcrumbs

And so I reached for Anne Ursu's Real Boy.  And sat down and began reading it.  And was immediately plunged into the mind of an intelligent reader (hers -- not mine), a thoughtful mindful human being, and a talented writer.  Once again.  It was a world I had missed since finishing Breadcrumbs.

The first thing I noticed upon opening the book was the picture, by Erin McGuire, at the beginning of each chapter.

This is how Ursu speaks of trees:

the ground beneath our feet is home to more untapped wonder than the skies above our heads

I have to say my breath caught, as I turned and looked out the window at Sylvia, our ancient enormous and beloved silver maple tree.

She is our Tree.  She likely predates the house.  And the house is 230 years old.  Centuries old, Sylvia still stands. There are no other trees of this age nearby.  And so, there must be some reason, a story behind why she is still here. I think the answer lies in what we cannot see.  She magnetically draws people, people who have not climbed trees for decades, but who were once those children who spent hours crouched in the bendy upper branches of a tree of their childhood, to get out of their car and climb her with only a rhetorical may I as they do so.  It's funny to me that Sylvia beckons to some to climb her, to touch her bark, to gaze about from up in her branches and see what they can see from up there.

For me, Sylvia inspires me to think and wonder, given the enormous span of her branches.

The girth of her trunk.

The gnarly old and thick bark that seems to bubble and twist and move even as you stare at her.

What must she look like underground?  Just what tortuous and far reaching root system must be necessary to hold her upright.  I imagine her root systems poking through the foundation of our house.  A tendril reaching all the way across the yard to the graveyard, perhaps reaching one of our house's previous occupant's hands and holding it, thus providing the connection between before and now.  Her roots working their way under the barn and under the street.  Sipping from the river.

These pictures of Ursu's wizard trees as chapter illustrations depict the world above as reflected in, suggestive of, provided by the underneath.  In The Real Boy, the trees infuse the earth with magic.  Sylvia, our wizard tree, reaching every corner here of the earth, but also of our minds, her shape redefining how we depict tree,

She causes me to wonder about what is down there.  Below.  If ever such a tree there was, a wizard tree, Sylvia is one.

By pulling me under, drawing me into her underworld in my mind, she thereby infuses me with a chance to flip upside down, stand below ground and look up/down from below.  To pass from a world of sky and air, to that of solid earth.  Above reflected below, and below imagined above.  Grounded, quiet, and hidden, I can better see the magic of the world above.  She is wise.

I wonder what Sylvia would look like if she pliéd right now.  For drama, of course.

I am still reading The Real Boy.  And I have a few moments before I need to get up and tend the family.  So excuse me.  I am going to go spend those moments with Anne.

1 comment:

  1. This is a gorgeous post that makes me want to curl up with my Anne Ursu books under a large, wise, stoic tree. My compliments to you and Sylvia :)


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