Quicker than the felling of trees,
a single ringing of the bark
above ground opened a wild grove
the first summer of settlement.
As buds dried up, the sap stream cut,
sun touched virgin forest floor.
Corn planted in hills not rows stretched
faster than briars or weeds. Feeding
on centuries of leafmold the stalks
reached up among the dying limbs
before tasseling. By Dog Days
the girdled acres brimmed with corn
and nettles, honeysuckle vines.
By the next spring rotting twig ends
and little branches peppered down
on the plowed ground. And by the third
year whole sheaths of bark dropped like shields
of a defeated army on
the hearth of cultivation. In five
years the standing trunks looked like stones
and statues in a graveyard as
crops rose and fell with the seasons.
In a decade the woods were gone.
Robert Morgan is a professor of English at Cornell University and the author of several books, including (1991) and (1995), a novel.
The Atlantic Monthly; December 1997; Girdling; Volume 280, No. 6; page 76.