American Hornbeam · Virginia Kendall Area

Musclewood

X
by Jeff Gundy

for Nelson Strong

Blue Hen to Buttermilk Falls is an easy 20 minutes, even with the roots
and creek to slow you down. But it always took an hour with Nelson
who never saw a tree he couldn’t explain, a patch of woods that didn’t signify.

The Horne-bound tree is a tough kind of Wood, that requires so much paines in riving as is almost incredible, being the best to make bolles and dishes, not subject to cracke or leake.
—William Wood, New England’s Prospect, 1634

My farm boy half, always bent on arriving, sighed when Nelson stopped
at a gnarly little tree, its trunk no bigger than my calf, and said, Oh,
this is musclewood. The settlers tried to use it, he said, but found the wood
so tough they mostly gave up, learned to just let it be.

American Hornbeam. Leaves emerge reddish-purple, change to dark green, go yellow to orange-red in fall. Blue-gray bar, fluted with long, sinewy ridges. Difficult to transplant due to deep spreading lateral roots. Slow growing. The hard wood is used to make golf clubs, tool handles, and mallets.
—The Morton Arboretum

Touch it, he said, and I wrapped a hand around the trunk,
a comfortable fit. My flesh still remembers the grooved bark,
how it spiraled upward like a long loose-threaded screw.
My hand told me the wood I clutched was dense, pale, stiff
beyond even the oaks and maples, ready to last a long time
between the trail and the creek, easy with a flood now and then.

The Ojibwe people used musclewood as ridgepoles in wigwams. Decoctions of its bark were used in Cherokee, Iroquois, and Delaware medicine to treat painful urination, “diseases peculiar to women,” and diarrhea, respectively.
—The Heartwood Tree Company

Nelson moved west. I’m stuck at home. This absurd,
apocalyptic year creeps slowly toward God knows what.
But the little musclewood is still there, leaning into darkness
and day between the creek and trail, whirling and steady,
pressing out and shedding its new leaves and seeds and flowers,
tough as any tree or trail or creek, any walker stopped
by a curious friend and asked to look, to touch something
native but not common, unassuming, discreet,
of slight human use but entirely at home in its place.

Continue Reading

American BeaverKatie Daley

Painted TurtleRebekah Ainsworth

Green DarnerMarion Boyer

Eastern Screech-OwlDr. R. Ray Gehani

Spring PeeperBarbara Sabol

Eastern Carpenter BeeSylvia Clark

Jacob's LadderRisha Nicole

Candleflame LichenClara Britton

Eastern NewtElizabeth Ryan

American BullfrogLaura Grace Weldon

American ChestnutCarrie George

American GoldfinchMarybeth Cieplinski

American HornbeamJeff Gundy

Artist’s BracketSusann Moeller

Banded Fishing SpiderCharlie Malone

BluegillOlivia Farina

Common Star-of-BethlehemBrita Alaburda

Common StonefliesKaren Schubert

Eastern ChipmunkNathan Kemp

Firefly BeetleJacquie Peoples Dukes

Gray CatbirdTheresa Brightman

Great MulleinLaurie Kincer

Green HeronPaula J. Lambert

HepaticaAmanda Schuster

Interrupted FernKathleen Cerveny

Jack-in-the-PulpitMichael Buebe

Meadow VoleRoberta Jupin

Monarch ButterflyDeborah Fleming

MuskratCatherine Wing

Pearl CrescentMonica Kaiser

Poison HemlockJon Conley

Star JelliesCameron Gorman

Sugar MapleSteve Brightman

Turkey VultureLaura Grace Weldon

White-footed MouseMichelle Bissell

White-tailed DeerBenjamin Rhodes

Wild CarrotJessica Jones

ABOUT

Traveling Stanzas community arts projects bring poetry to people’s everyday lives through innovative methods and digital platforms.