Before the Trees by Molly Lamb

Issue 112

For the last six years, I have been making work about my family history and how it permeates my being, my experiences, and my perspectives. This work has evolved into four series of images coupled with poems. Each series is a separate chapter in this longer, ongoing narrative about loss, family history, and family future.

Before the Trees is a contemplation of the grief, memory, and memorials that comprise my landscapes. When I crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas several summers ago, I stepped onto the terrain of these benchmarks. It was the most difficult bridge I have ever crossed.

My memories are surrounded by trees and the spaces between them. In the forests of past centuries, trees were magical. They were connections between the heavens and humans and the underworld, between life and death. They were spiritual backbones, imbued with meaning. Of course when we climbed the trees of our childhood and wandered beneath their branches, we did not know this. We gave them our own meaning because of the meaning we needed in our lives. They were the territory of escape. They were protection. They were companions. They brought freedom, adventure, and life. They made sense.

Until they didn’t.

The cabin was just as I remembered it, the same familiar solidity with just a few more wrinkles and shifts. I didn’t linger, never doubted its durability, and searched for the trees. I had already looked for one now lost. It was old and weathered and rough and gorgeous in the way that time shapes us. Along the dirt road leading to the cabin, beside the field that rolled down into the valleys, it welcomed us like we imagined a grandmother might. I have a photograph of my brother swinging from the lower branches, his body glowing against the old dark wood. Another stood tall and slender on the edge of the woods by the back porch. My brother climbed it one afternoon, shimmied all the way up to the thin top wearing a red shirt. We could see it in our sleep through our bedroom window, knowing that the first hint of sunlight to spirit it away from the darkness freed us from bed and into the mountains to roam. The thick underbrush and woods that rose and swept deeply down the mountains remains, the mysteriousness of the denseness never gone.

But deeper into the mountains and further down the road is the tree I will not see.

Molly Lamb lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts. 
To view more of Molly's work, please visit her website.