The Old Man Climbs A Tree
by Wendell Berry
He had a tall cedar he wanted to cut for posts,
but it leaned backward toward the fence,
and there’s no gain in tearing down one
fence to build another. To preserve the fence
already built, he needed to fasten a rope
high up in the cedar, and draw it tight
to the trunk of another tree, so that as he sawed
the cedar free of its stance it would sway
away from the fence as it fell. To bring
a ladder would require too long a carry
up through the woods. Besides, you can’t
climb into a cedar tree by means of a ladder–
too branchy. He would need first to cut off
all the branches, and for that he would need a ladder.
And so, he thought, he would need to climb
the tree itself. He’d climbed trees many times
in play when he was a boy, and many times
since, when he’d had a reason. He’d loved
always his reasons for climbing trees.
But he’d come now to the age of remembering,
and he remembered his boyhood fall from an apple tree,
and being brought in to his mother, his wits
dispersed, not knowing where he was,
though he was in this world still.
If that should happen now, he thought,
the world he waked up in would not be this one.
The other world is nearer to him now.
But trailing his rope untied as yet to anything
but himself, he climbed up once again and stood
where only birds and the wind had been before,
and knew it was another world, after all,
that he climbed up into. There are
no worlds but other worlds: the world
of the field mouse, the world of the hawk,
the world of the beetle, the world of the oak,
the worlds of the unborn, the dead, and all
the heavenly host, and he is alive
in those worlds while living in his own.
Known or unknown, every world exists
because the others do.
` The treetops
are another world, smelling of bark,
a stratum of freer air and larger views,
from which he saw the world he’d lived in
all day until now, its intimate geography changed
by his absence and by the height he saw it from.
The sky was a little larger and all around
the aerial topography of treetops, green and gray,
the ground almost invisible beneath.
He perched there, ungravitied as a bird,
knotting his rope and looking around, worlded
in worlds on worlds, pleased, and unafraid.
There are no worlds but other worlds
and all the other worlds are here,
reached or almost reachable by the same
outstretching hand, as he, perched upon
his high branch, almost imagined flight.
And yet when he descended into this other
other world, he climbed down all the way.
He did not swing out from a lower limb
and drop, as once he would have done.
Sabbath Poems 1995: VI