Tall Trees

October 9, 2014 in

Then our true colors show: red, orange and yellow! Then, we all die. (But just for now.)

Break-ups are always hard, but they’re a particular kind of hard when you’re a songwriter or other kind of creative type. Suddenly you have this backlog of songs (or paintings or poems or whatever) about a time and a place and person that are no longer yours in the same way. Who wants to sing a love song about a relationship that later ended in pain and tears? Eesh. It aches, right here.

In my life I have tried to be the kind of person who grows from pain like this. When a significant relationship ended last year, I resolved to leave myself raw and open to the long journey back to myself. I was hurting, but I was growing. I would have rather not have been hurting, but the wisdom we never wanted is still wisdom, and I earned it, dammit.

Thus I made a conscious, deliberate decision that I would not let anything carry more meaning than it had to. Just because a song was not true in the same way as it was when I wrote it does not mean it was not true then. It is still valid. It is still mine. I can reclaim these songs and let them find new meanings.

“Tall Trees” is one of these songs. I wrote it in October four years ago, when the leaves were changing and when the person I loved at that time lost someone he loved very much. He was not there when she died, but he was able to say, “I love you,” on the phone and hear those three words back in return.

Death was on our minds a lot that fall. My sister Vanessa was dying too. We had found out in February of that year that her metastatic breast cancer would kill her at some undisclosed-but-not-very-far-off time. The world was heightened and sharpened around me. Things came into focus in different ways. We were jolted from our warm comfort and reminded that the world outside is big and mysterious and ever-changing.

I thought often about how our true natures, whether good or bad, show in times of struggle. How we have bursts of glorious color when we are under pressure. How things end, but that they are big and alive before they go, and that matters too.

I do love the way Yearbook Committee took to this song so nicely. In that recording (on Sing Till You Die) it feels just the way I wanted it to: vibrant, aching, wistful but alive. (You can watch our video for the song here if you’d like.)


We are tall trees.
We all look the same until the fall comes,
then our true colors show:
red orange and yellow!
Then, we all die,
but just for now.

Winding road, loud rain on the roof
and cold wind thunder.
Then comes a telegraph, phone call, smoke signals:
proof of mortality
and three words.

We are tall trees.
We are so vibrant until the snow falls.
Then we all look the same:
birch bark, bones, branches,
skin, muscle and leaves.
(Ours just for now.)

Once inside a warm house
we forget how cold we were
but then comes a note
tied to a rock through the window:
bitter reminder
and three words.

Top image credits Left: I took this at Unicoi State Park in Georgia. Right: “Sending kisses by telegraph, postcard from start of 20th century.” Circa 1900-1905. Public domain.


  1. doerf on September 7, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    hey bud, it sure seems like you’re doin’ GREAT, darned glad to see that! I’m on the fly right now, but would love to yack it up some time, if yer ever home, or if I make it back to nashville (tell jack white doerf says “hey!”)!

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