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‘I Am an Oak Tree’: An environmental writer’s first essay

I was curious as to why my mother would’ve saved my elementary school story, until I read the last line.

MinnPost file photo by Steve Date

Some years ago, after I started writing about environment for living, I went to visit my mom at her place in Indiana. With great glee she led me to the big bulletin board in the kitchen, where she had just put up my first piece of prose on an environmental theme.

It was brief narrative, and undated, but the large block letters, in graphite, on one of those 8.5 by 11 newsprint sheets with the alternating thick and thin green lines, in what we now call landscape mode, suggested that Ronnie M. might have been in the first or second grade.

“I Am an Oak Tree” was the title, and whether the subject was assigned or left to the writer’s choice was not possible to tell. Nor was the aim of the exercise clear, although the results included close observation as to aesthetic qualities (pretty, strong, green), scale (big, tall), purpose (shade, squirrel home).

Predicting many a school paper to come, the spelling was nearly perfect (A-) and certainly better than the penmanship (Practice!).

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It is said that literature is writing that has stood the test of time, and as I read these 50 or 60 words I wondered what had saved this particular piece of schoolboy scribbling from the scrap bin. It was all in the denouement:

“Every year when autumn comes my leaves turn brown. And then my nuts fall off.”