Being a former precocious preadolescent, I once used to voraciously read Mad magazine. It’s what you did as a boy back in the 1970s before your testicles descended, and hey — I was no different. For us 12-year-olds hanging out in our treehouses conveniently away from intruding parents, satire was the urban refuge of the budding cynic, and irreverence was a holy thing. While our across-the-gender-fence peers could have been a continent removed from us reading all the latest Tiger Beat gossip about Bobby Sherman, Donny Osmond, and Tony DeFranco, we were passing around well-thumbed copies of Mad, as well as Cracked and National Lampoon.
We were the Kings of All Boyhood.
True, we were hooked on the brazen impudence, the distorted symbolism, the racy chimera of these puerile rags. But as I continued along the winding trail through the rocky promontories of my postpubescence, I discovered real rock: the writings of Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Wallace Stegner, John Wesley Powell, Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey.
I had already become an avid hiker and backpacker, and was later to adopt a 200-mile-a-week bicycling habit. Not to mention a fondness for wine, if I could afford it, and a desire to taste and breathe all things natural and good. I had developed a deep longing to be out there where I could breathe that sweet and lucid, yet unspoiled, rarefied mountain breeze that continually sang to me with its siren call.
My idealism was wholly influenced by all I read, and I went on to pursue studies in biology, botany, physics, geology, land surveying, and, for a while, a degree in forest science. Later, despite my gravitation to a more technical career path yet still drawn by Abbey’s ornery, magnetic prose, I ventured to the stark red rock vastnesses of the Colorado Plateau to strengthen my connection to what Abbey described so vividly as Bedrock and Paradox.
I kept on reading.
If there’s one absolute Truth that I would learn through this timeline, it’s that one can’t be a writer without first being a reader. It was these readings and experiences that began to shape what my Self was to become. Yet for all that I would ever think, feel, do, and share with others, it became apparent to me that there was only one higher Absolute Truth:
Only rock is real.
Yet my attraction to all things bound to this Rock that we — all species — live our lives upon began, as I’ve intimated, with a love of trees, and a desire for their sound management and preservation.
During my angst-prone pimple-ridden wide-eyed youth, I penned the following poem, a Mad parody of Joyce Kilmer‘s oft-quoted World War I-era classic. Some might say that I stole this poem from Mad magazine. All I can tell you is that I was heavily influenced by what I was reading at age 17; I was writing a fair amount of “love and death” poetry at the time.
I’ll let you be the judge.
TREES, I THINK
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
I’d hoped, of course, that there would be
A tree still left for me to see.
Some lumber firm from out of town
Has chopped the whole damned forest down.
But I’ll show up those stupid chumps!
I’ll go and write a poem called “Stumps!”