Thursday, June 19, 2014
The Wonder of Trees
About thirty years ago, my husband Bill planted a sugar maple in a prominent spot on our property. I see the branches from my bed and the whole tree when I sit on my deck. It grew rapidly and was of a good height some ten years later when it was grazed by lightening. One branch died and the bark had a scorched streak running to the ground. We waited for a year to see if the tree would recover, but it became clear that our maple needed attention. Bill was determined to save it and began asking around trying to locate someone to help us. One of our friends gave us the phone number of a man he knew, saying, “Don knows a lot about maples.” Bill called him, and Don agreed to look at the damage with the hope that he could help the tree. He removed the one dead branch, cleaned what we referred to as “the wound,” and did some further pruning and shaping. Don wanted to top the tree, as is often done with maples, but we liked a natural look and asked him to do the minimum needed for the health of the tree.
The wound did heal and the tree flourished, but the stimulation of the pruning caused an unusually large number of interior branches. For the past year I had observed this tree in our more frequent storms and high winds, and I had some concern about its viability. It was just a hunch because I really don’t know much about caring for trees. Celo is now blessed by a young certified arborist who grew up here, left to gain education and experience, and returned to establish a tree service he calls High Lonesome Timber. Isak is calm, meditative, and knowledgeable, and I knew I could trust him with my beloved tree. I called him in early April before it leafed out. After learning its history and studying it carefully, he declared that it would benefit from some judicious pruning of interior branches. He told me sugar maples are strong and there was no danger of the tree falling over in a storm. He also agreed to take a careful look at the two other maples nearby. A week later as he was preparing to start pruning, I told him how much fun I had climbing trees as a child, and he told me he had as well. Then I left him to commune with my sugar maple and find just the right cuts to make.
The year I turned six we were living in a house directly across the street from a woods made up mostly of deciduous trees. I was small and the trees looked tall enough to touch heaven. My brother (three years older) climbed as high as he could and then yelled for our mother to come and look. She was nervous but I was wishing I could be up there too. My father helped me climb a young maple that had one branch strong enough for me to straddle and another to hold on to. A few years later we moved to a house with a large backyard full of old growth oaks and maples and other good climbing trees. One had a broad limb joining the trunk that created a fork comfortable enough for me to sit and read a book with my legs stretched out.
My parents taught me by word and example to love trees. I fell out of the first tree I climbed alone and landed on a piece of broken glass hidden in the leaf litter; I was taken to the hospital with a deep wound. Nevertheless once I recovered I was encouraged to get back out there and climb again. I also remember sitting on the front porch glider with my father and watching the trees bend and dance in the wind of rainstorms. We lived in five different rented houses when I was growing up, and all of the yards had lots of trees. After my favorite house was sold, we lived briefly in a friend’s garage. My older siblings were married and raising children, and my brother David was in college. For weeks my parents and I had been searching for a house to rent. One Sunday afternoon, Mother insisted that the three of us should sit together holding hands and talking about what we each most wanted in a new house. Then she prayed for all those things. First on Mother’s list was "lots of trees." By a strange set of circumstances, my father rented a house sight unseen soon after that prayer. We had all walked by it over the years, but we hadn’t been inside or even noticed it. When we went for our first look after the lease was already signed, my father stood in the yard looking up at the stand of amazing old trees that shaded every bit of the property. He looked at me and said, “Mother must have had a very good day when she prayed for trees.”
Now I walk the same stretch of Grindstaff Road twice every day. Almost the entire route is lined on both sides with an amazing variety of trees and shrubs. When I walk I try to be fully present and actively engaged in noticing everything I can. Once after a walk I e-mailed my friend Alicia (a professional color expert) describing the many shades of green I had observed. Her return e-mail told me that of the ten million colors the eye is capable of seeing, eight million are green. Most of us probably learned in a science class all about chlorophyll, photosynthesis, and the carbon/oxygen cycle. But isn’t it wonderfully amazing that nature has developed millions of different plants in myriad shades of green that clean the air and add the oxygen that fuels us enough to climb a tree or take a walk?
When Isak gave me his bill for the care of my maples, he had written across the bottom, “Thank you very much for the work. I hope your great-grandchildren enjoy climbing these maples.” Amen, say I.