Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cooling Shade

By cool Siloam's shady rill
How fair the lily grows!
How sweet the breath, beneath the hill,
Of Sharon's dewy rose!

Lo! such the child whose early feet
The paths of peace have trod,
Whose secret heart, with influence sweet,
Is upward drawn to God.

Reginald Heber, 1812
Our town in Wyoming has an elevation of 5,358 ft (1,633 m), more than a mile high, and as such is considered high desert. Trees do grow along the rivers and irrigation ditches: cottonwoods, Russian Olive, willow. There are no hardwoods. Within the limits of the very small city, trees set out decades ago along streets and in the parks are watered and provide green shade during the short, but usually fiercely hot summer. A few miles out of town, the landscape quickly reverts to the monotony of sagebrush and stubbly, coarse grass. Shade is scarce and the sun beats down on windblown dust.
We live less than two miles from the center of town and thanks to an irrigation ditch which loops and curves through the property we have trees--my husband is fond of stating that they are about the only trees between the city limits and the junction 8 miles away.
Driving into town on a summer's day I pass a horse pasture. For several years I noticed that on hot afternoons the horses would crowd into the lop-sided rectangle of shade thrown by a huge billboard. Early in January we endured a week of unusually high winds--and this is land where the wind blows famously. Limbs and branches crashed down and the tree service people were busy for days to come. We had our own clean up to do--part of a tree down just outside the dining room window, branches all over the driveway. At one point as I stood gazing up into the bare and creaking heights of a cottonwood, my husband suggested wryly, "Do you suppose maybe you should move out from under the trees while you stand and think?"
The metal billboard was also a casualty of the gales and no one has removed the twisted metal poles or the battered sign. Earlier this week I observed that the horses still gather close around the wreckage, still taking the available shelter from the sun in the heat of the day. They were most cordial and obliging when I stopped the truck and climbed out to take their pictures.
Mulling this, I recalled some of the old hymns of the church which mention shade, Bible verses which give thanks for a cooling stream or the blessing of relief from the beating and merciless sun. "Mighty rock in a weary land, cooling shade on the burning sand..."
These were the stories and songs of people whose heritage was desert heat at its worst; the rights to a well were defended in bloody combat; green grass, a clear running brook, a safe pasture with a grove of shade trees became the poetry of thanksgiving.
Eleven years ago I moved to the interior west leaving behind a lifetime of maple shaded dooryards, flowering hedgerows, acres of beech and oak, ash and hickory. I came to live in a place where dried tumbleweed mounded along the roadside fences, where the wind whipped coarse grit against my skin; where trash and dust rolled up the valley each afternoon driven by the relentless winds.
I cherish these willows around the pond, the cottonwoods and the Chinese elm, the Russian olives which straggle along the irrigation ditch. Our horse has shade where she can retreat to swish her tail during the heat of the day.
The Lord is your keeper;The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
Psalm 121:5

No comments:

Post a Comment