Pulitzer-winning former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s birthday is close to Earth Day. To be precise, Kooser was born on April 25 way back in 1939, long before anyone thought of the annual observance. Nevertheless, Kooser has been writing about the tangled relationships between our lives and the natural world throughout his career.
Now, he gives us a wonderful picture book, House Held up by Trees (available from Amazon), which is memorable partly because its story is so simple: A family grows up in a sterile suburban yard with a perfectly manicured lawn, the children grow up, the father ages, the home is abandoned—and native trees soon reclaim the place like rising pillars of some ancient temple.
Of course, followers of Kooser’s work through the decades might read this new book for kids (and the adults who love them) as an offshoot of Kooser’s earlier family memoir, Lights on a Ground of Darkness: An Evocation of a Place and Time. Anyone who knows Kooser’s poetry and especially his family memoir immediately will recognize his voice within these new pages so beautifully illustrated by Jon Klassen.
Kooser wrote Lights on a Ground at the point when his own family was vanishing and their familiar haunts were fading. No, none of his family had a house consumed by trees, but Kooser makes it clear in his memoir that our human lives and our favorite family stories are woven through the places we love.
He opens the memoir with a poem to his late mother, Vera Delores Moser Kooser: Mid April already, and the wild plums bloom at the roadside, a lacy white against the exuberant, jubilant green of new grass and the dusty, fading black of burned-out ditches. No leaves, not yet … But clearly those leaves are coming in “the month of my birth … the best month to be born in,” Kooser writes. And how does he remember his mother best? By moving some of the irises she loved over to his own yard. Soon, they will blossom in the “feast” of spring. Then, he writes to his mother: “Were it not for the way you taught me to look at the world, to see the life at play in everything, I would have to be lonely forever.”
What an elegy! For that reason, in recommending House Held up by Trees today, we also urge readers to pick up Kooser’s Lights on a Ground. Together, the two books are a full meal, as Kooser might put it, about the ephemeral quality of family, the ever-changing nature of what we consider to be “home”—and the potent place of nature in preserving what is best in all of us.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.