Who leaves the pine-tree, leaves his friend, unnerves his strength, invites his end ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poetic quote speaks of a close relationship between man and nature. It is a bond that if broken affects the inner and physical balance of man’s strength resulting in his demise. This reflects the author’s character the father and the sentiment regarding how he lived his life. A comparison is made as a man is old and vulnerable as trees and the earth are too while what is loved is slowly passing away. “Buckeye” by American essayist Scott Russell Sanders is a short memoir that skillfully reflects the author’s reminiscing of his father. It begins with the theme of buckeyes and their meaning, two objects that are focused on through images given to the reader, “…the brown seeds are shriveled now, hollow, hard as pebbles…” (384), with the subtheme of the love of nature shared by a father and son.
The first line immediately captures the reader’s attention as it pulls them in with an experience that is universal, death. The writer uses the first person singular to tell as well as show his personal experiences including backstory, “I learned to recognize buckeyes and beeches, sugar maples and shagbark hickories, wild cherries, walnuts, and dozens of other trees while tramping through the Ohio woods with my father,” (385) and “I listened, and heard the stir of breath” 385). The writer’s distinctive narrative voice is lyrical, innocent, authentic and intimate while his tone is soft as if he speaking to an old friend. The style includes formal/informal words such as the true names of trees, hornbeam, canoewood, hoop ash and hackberry. The exposition is of a story about a man’s life work through nature. There are strong sentence patterns and structure that includes strategic placing of commas to slow the reader’s pace down and the varying in sentence length, short next to long, mostly long. There does not seem to be a specific setting yet included in the backstory is the state of Ohio.
Sanders uses figurative language such as similes, “So he fondled those buckeyes as if they were charms…,” (285) and a simile that slows the reader down with commas, “To his eyes, their shapes, their leaves, their bark, their winter buds were as distinctive as the set of a friend’s shoulders” (385). The author’s choice of words helped the reader to visualize the scenes as the sensory imagery and details created concrete images, “…walking in a circle around the splayed roots of a sycamore. Laying his hand against the truck of a white oak, ruffling the feathery green boughs of a cedar,” (385) and “We came upon lone bucks, their antlers lifted against the sky like the bare branches of dogwood” (386). The dialogue is minimal for instance, “He would flex his hands and say, I do so far,” (384) and “That’s why the old-timers called it stinking buckeye, he told me” (386).
It is through backstory that personal information is revealed to the reader, “Only much later would I discover that the tree he called ironwood, its branches like muscular arms, good for ax handles, is known in books as hop hornbeam…” There is clear characterization incorporated within the essay beginning with the protagonist as a youth. The reader is taken through the author’s own natural progression of maturing as well as his father’s. The father is the second character who lived life through his hands, “I mean to tickle my grandchildren when they come along, he told me, and I mean to build doll houses and turn spindles for tiny chairs on my lathe” and “He sought to ward off arthritis not because he feared pain but because he lived through his hands, and he dreaded the swelling of knuckles, the stiffening of fingers” (384). In this essay the buckeyes could also be considered a character as they depicted years of survival as well as the affect they had on the characters, “He used to reach for them in his overalls or suit pants and click on them together…,” and “Do you really believe buckeyes keep off arthritis? I asked him more than once” (384).
Foreshadowing is evident in the beginning as the author describes the buckeyes, “…yet they still gleam from the polish of his hands” predicting the comparison to a deer’s eye, “…within a few paces of a grazing deer, close enough to see the delicate lips, the twitching nostrils, the glossy, fathomless eyes (386). Irony is present as the story unfolds to reveal the father was right, buckeye seemed to help prevent arthritis, but couldn’t help his heart in the end. The inner conflict within the essay addresses growing old and the fight to keep a man’s hands agile. The suspense arises as the fight against time and old age affect the characters resulting in death and the memories of a love shared of nature that lingers on. Its narrative arc begins with a boy learning of his father’s trade and love of nature. The body of the piece tells of a man who knew his trade but was not book smart. The end portrays the connection of understanding and love of nature, a common bond shared with his father which evokes emotion in the reader.
My holistic analysis is that the essay is effectively focused and the author presents the theme within the first two sentences. The transitions were smooth as each paragraph moved into the next subtly. The essay is well written through its organization and development.