Self-Portrait with Dogwood (2017)
In the course of researching dogwood trees, poet and essayist Christopher Merrill realized that a number of formative moments in his life had some connection to the tree named—according to one writer—because its fruit was not fit for a dog. As he approached his sixtieth birthday, Merrill began to compose a self-portrait alongside this tree that, from an early age, he has regarded as a talisman.
Dogwoods have never been far from Merrill's view, helping to shape his understanding of place in the great chain of being. His connection to nature has become more acute as his work has taken him to distant corners of the earth, often to war zones where he has witnessed not only humans' propensity for violence but also the enduring connections that can be forged across languages, borders, and politics. Dogwoods teach us persistence, humility, and wonder.
Self-Portrait with Dogwood is no ordinary memoir but rather the work of a traveler who has crisscrossed the globe. Merrill provides new ways of thinking about personal history, the environment, politics, faith, and the power of the written word. In his descriptions of a besieged city in Bosnia, a hidden path in a Taiwanese park, Tolstoy's country house in Russia, a castle in Slovakia, and a blossoming dogwood at daybreak in Seattle, readers' understanding of the world will flourish as well.