Settlers by Jeffrey Taylor

The red oaks are still robed
in their green and red glory
as we approach Christmas.
The hackberry stands quiet
in its winter bareness. I do not
know the tree with tiny leaves
that remain green all winter.
Here on the edge of the Edwards Plateau
it whispers it name—Plateau Live Oak.

Before the settlers arrived,
this plateau was grasslands. Fires
burned trees and encouraged fresh grass.
The Indians burned small sections, attracting
animals and discouraging infernos.
The settlers’ cattle liked
the fire-managed grasslands. They
were born to grassfires. The settlers,
not so much. They eliminated
both grassfires and Indians.

Trees followed the settlers onto the plateau.
Some were natives elsewhere in Texas—migrants.
The ubiquitous Mountain Cedar’s seedlings
are too bitter for cattle—opportunists.
Some trees the settlers brought
from their homeland—importees. A few
hitched a ride—stowaways. Some fled
extermination—refugees.

The native limestone on which all stand
is full of ancient seashells. Here,
seven hundred feet above sea level,
not plants, not animals, not humans,
not even the rocks can boast,
“We’ve always been here.”