Our Gentle Giants
Maybe it was the recent passing of Arbor day, or Eric's response to the question,"What plant would you choose to be come back as..", to which he chose the olive tree, or maybe it from being asked about my favorite photo; I am not sure exactly but it brought trees to the forefront of my mind. There is one quote about trees that is a favorite of mine, a Chinese Proverb that reads, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” It often makes me think about the admiration and respect we have for trees and wonder where does our love of trees come from, what is our fascination with them? Some answers are plain to see with the obvious factors of why we love them is that they are good for the earth and environment, the air, they provide wood which we have used to build our homes and shelters and most of our furnishings too, they provide the pencil we write with to the paper we write on, among many other rational reasons. There is no doubt that we are thankful for these things that trees provide, but there is something deeper, more emotional that they stir up in us. Trees evoke so many deep memories that probably started at a young age, maybe being pushed on a tire swing hanging from a strong limb or running in the woods with friends as children? Apple picking with the family in the autumn, when some leaves mesmerize us while turning their bright, brilliant magical colors?
One of my earliest memories regarding a tree was during my kindergarten graduation. All the students, with help from our parents, collected money to purchase a flowering dogwood (I remember the attached white tag clearly) and gave this tree as a gift to our kindergarten teacher, as it was her last year of teaching. It was all kept a secret until the end of the ceremony, when it was pulled along in a red flyer wagon, by myself and a fellow student, up to our unsuspecting teacher. As we pulled this beautiful little tree, with its peachy-pink blooms and root ball wrapped in burlap, we were met with gasps and smiles from those seated in the auditorium. The whole situation was fascinating and confusing to me - why were we giving her a tree, why a tree? What did it mean? Where would she plant it? We all lived in the Bronx! Would she think of us every time she looked at in in flower or in leaf? What if she didn't like trees? And where was she going?! There were so many unanswered questions about this ceremonial act that were clouding my young mind.
Growing up in the Bronx, meant spending the weekends upstate at my grandparents house, about a 2 hour drive north to Red Hook in the Hudson Valley. My siblings and I would climb the huge trees next to the house, which were situated just outside the kitchen window, always trying to see who could climb the highest. Pines, I remember them with very large trunks and limbs. When we would be called in for lunches of baloney sandwiches and fresh cucumbers, we carefully descended branch by branch, jumping onto the soft pine needle covered ground when we were within safe proximity. Once inside, we always needed to spend some minutes scrubbing the sticky pine sap off our tiny hands before we were allowed to eat our lunch. I am sure if I saw these trees now, they would not seem as large as they do in my memories of those times. Could these early games have sparked my fascination with trees?
Texture and foliage keep a garden interesting through the season. Flowers are just moments of gratification. - Kevin Doyle
The sight of a single or grove of deciduous trees can invoke both pleasant and melancholy thoughts. The silhouettes of solitary trees in winter are their fingerprints on the horizon, stamping themselves against a bare sky. You might easily recognize what tree it is from a distance, whether in daytime or on a bright moonlit night. In a Pennsylvanian winter, I always imagined the large Platanus trees in the forest were the 'Kings of the Winter Wood' with the seasonal light picking up the silvery glints of their beautiful bark. Even in a mixed wood they easily stand out, it is the season for them to shine, glowing among a surrounding dreary sea of muted trunks of gray and brown, a king among men.
Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong. – Churchill
The sense of coolness we feel in the warm summer months, as we sit beneath the shade of a single specimen or enter a dark grove, tingles the skin and puts the mind at ease, giving us a break from the heat of the blazing sun. A nap can easily be brought on by listening to the lullaby of the branches swaying slightly in a breeze, leaves rustling to and fro, causing our minds to wander into a sleepy landscape, protected underneath a large and looming canopy.
The plethora of trees in the countryside is always pleasurable due to their sheer amount surrounding us, so it might be possible to take single trees for granted there, but not the case for a city dweller. They might not know what the tree is, where it came from, or its significance to the world, but that single green tree in a sea of concrete puts a smile on the face of many neighborhood folk rushing about their daily activities. Is it the the short-lived colorful blooms they love, the soothing green color of a fully leafed out tree, or is it the thickness of the eye level trunk which quietly proclaims its sense of history in such a rapid paced environment? Perhaps it is why when we see one go down in city streets, we feel a tinge of panic, a moment of sadness, a shortness of breath because someone we saw each day is now gone, another piece of the present is now forgotten history. Some blossoming trees are sometimes further enhanced by surrounding garish city colors, letting the tree be an individual among other city folk, standing its own quirky ground just as it own citizens strive for individuality.
Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. – Confucius
If there was only one tree I could plant, I would most definitely choose something from the genus Malus because of its continual hard work most of them provide through the seasons. Spring brings the beauty of delicate blossoms that attract and feed insects, lush foliage with developing fruits while providing good shade in summer, gorgeous and colorful delicious apples dangling from each branch in autumn and some with fall color, and finally the wonderfully twisted silhouettes to look at during the winter, especially pleasing in an orchard.
The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration. - Claude Monet
There is no denying that trees are the elephants of our plant kingdom; they are larger than us, old, gentle, wise, experienced, and have stories to tell. They are the plants we know have seen a lot, probably more in life than you and I have, and probably ever will. In keeping with the favored Chinese Proverb, remember to plant those trees for future generations, not just for the pleasure of ours today. - James