Monday, October 7, 2013

My Favorite Trees

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things...
My guess is that everyone has a favorite tree. I know I've had many over my lifetime. When I was a little kid, my grandparents had a Weeping Willow and I loved to grab onto the flexible vine-like branches and swing like Tarzan out over the yard. I don't think it was all that good for the tree, but I sure loved grabbing on and flying! They also had a tree that we called the "Peachcot" (a cross between a peach and an apricot) and it was just the right height for me to climb. It had a short trunk with a nice low crotch in the branches that was easy for me to reach. I wasn't terribly brave and would never dare to climb high, but this one was just right for me.

When I was a little older, my family bought a house with a big Japanese Plum tree in the back yard. I spent many pleasant days and evenings sitting under that tree, appreciating the shade of the purple leaves, eating the little cherry sized plums, and listening to the nighthawks that flew over it every summer night. When my 5th grade class made keepsake plates for our families for Christmas, I drew the plum tree on mine. When we were assigned to write a poem to enter in a contest for a children's magazine, I wrote mine about the life I imagined in that tree.

"I have a little treehouse way up high. And what do you think may come passing by? Maybe a bird, maybe a butterfly. You never know what may come passing by."

I don't think I was destined to become a poet, but I was very proud of my poem, and remember it still, because it represented my vision of perfect happiness, living in a tree.

Many years later when my soon-to-be husband and I lived in the mountains outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, our trees were the Piñon and Ponderosa Pines. Each year pollen from Piñones covered the ground and made golden rims around dried puddles. And every other year they produced a bounty of delicious pine nuts. We would lay bed sheets underneath the trees to catch the seeds when we shook the branches. The Stellar's Jays perched on top of the low trees and squawked at our dogs when they wanted access to the dog food. When it was cold and snowy we burned Piñon Pine to heat our cabin and cook our food and the smell of Piñon smoke flavored the air all around Santa Fe. During the warm months we could smell the delicious vanilla from the giant Ponderosas when we went out walking, and frequently we gave the trees a great bear hug, burying our noses in the thick bark to inhale the sweet scent. (Hugging trees is the best way to get to know them well.) When we decided to get married, we knelt under the Ponderosa Pines made our promises with engagement rings formed from their long needles.

Our neighbors in the Santa Fe National Forest had the best idea. They created a children's camp with cabins built in the trees. Santa Fe Tree House Camp. The children spent a week or two living in the forest and sleeping on bunk beds in the houses nestled in the trees. From inside those cabins you could hear the wind blowing through pine branches and feel the movement as the trees swayed. I had the chance to stay in one of the cabins with my husband and kids when we visited many years later and I slept like a baby, resting in the arms of the pines.

When we moved to Florida, our first home came with lovely landscaping that included my first and favorite Japanese Magnolia tree. It was perfectly situated to get enough light and and space to grow to its full shape without pruning. When it bloomed in February the yard lit up with the huge pinky purple blossoms. That tree helped me appreciate the glory of living in Florida in the winter.

Now we live in a house with a magnificent Sweet Gum tree. It is enormous and stands guard over our back yard. I think it's one of the bigger Sweet Gum trees that I've seen. I was told that the tree had been topped once, so it isn't as tall as it might be. But it has a huge circumference, measuring almost 14 feet around at the base where I can reach. There is an apartment over our neighbor's garage with windows that look out at the tree. One of the renters told me that waking up every morning to the sight of that giant gave him such joy. I get it. I love to sit and watch the branches against the blue sky. I like to look up at the branches and imagine just how many creatures call this tree home. It is like a whole ecosystem in and of itself. You can see holes in the trunk and on the branches from Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers. Chickadees, titmice and vireos hop through the branches, hunting for bugs or waiting their turn at the bird feeder below. Squirrels scramble up and down the branches, leaping from tree to tree on their own arboreal highway. Barred owls call from the tree at night and bluejays scold during the day. In the fall, when we're lucky, maybe we'll find a Luna Moth.

Standing Guard

Looking Up into the Canopy

Sapsucker Holes

Squirrel Interstate
In the winter the star-shaped leaves drop and the tree will stand gray and almost naked, except for the Spanish Moss that blankets the branches. A strong wind can cause the moss to fall down to the ground, draping other bushes and trees. I admit that the seed pods, the "Gum Balls" (or Porcupine Eggs, as some people call them!) can be annoying. The tree is so big that when they fall, we have thousands of large, hard, spiny, balls on the ground, to pick up, fish out of the pond, and roll on like so many marbles. But they provide food for finches and squirrels, and they are so interesting to look at that I can't really hate them. When the weather warms up we see the first signs of green and soon the starry leaves are back again and the tree returns to life.
Blankets of Spanish Moss
A Fresh Gum Ball

Green Stars
I love this tree in a different way than the previous trees in my life. I feel like it is a gentle grandparent, my gray bearded friend. My husband and I sit outside under the shade of its massive limbs and we feel protected from the rest of the world. Maybe I'm just more sentimental now, or maybe I'm more appreciative of all the ways that the tree provides home, habitat and happiness for so many of us creatures and thankful for the oxygen it makes and the organic matter it contributes to the soil of our yard. I revel in its hugeness and seek serenity in its greenness and grandeur. I breathe its air and I feel happy and grateful.
Sweet Gum Bark

This is a link to a video by Bartholomaus Traubeck who has figured out a way to play the "music of trees". He has built a special "record player" that scans the rings of rounds cut from tree trunks and digitizes the scans to make a musical image. I think the sounds are eery and beautiful and sound just about like I'd think a tree would sound. See for yourself.

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