One of my favorite things in all the world is trees. Specifically, the tops of trees where they brush the sky. That’s why I silently rage when our city electric service sends crews around to cut back tree limbs that have stretched out too close to the electric lines. I have a gorgeous tulip poplar that has grown too close to the lines and has to be trimmed back every few years. Actually, “trimmed” is not really the word for what they do. “Hacked” is more accurate. Over half of the street-side of the tree gets cut bare of limbs, and this year the workers cut branches off the sides as well. I understand that this is done to prevent branches from falling onto the lines and cutting off electricity for our neighborhood during storms, so I say nothing and try not to look at the damage our tree is taking. Still . . . it seems like too much.
Anyway, the electric-service crew came by and hacked away at the poplar this past week. Then today we met with an arborist about trimming – gently – the rest of our trees. It was obvious that the arborist loved trees just by the way he talked about them, the way he described going into the branches and cutting away just enough to keep the tree healthy.
“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way,” said William Blake.
Maybe one reason I love trees is that I grew up in West Texas, where trees are few and far between. In our new subdivision, there were none at all until my family planted mulberries and ash trees, which did not gain their full height until after I had moved away.
I do remember climbing a tree in my grandmother’s front yard. It was a locust with jagged limbs and dry, crackly bean pods. As trees go, it was short. Which was why I could climb it. I would perch in a crook where a branch joined the trunk and survey the flat field of grass across the street as if I were a lookout on a ship and the grass, waving in the wind, was the ocean. It felt like a private and privileged place to be.
I had another encounter with a tree this week – or part of a tree. I introduced my grandson to a footstool that my Granny – his great-great-grandmother – made out of a tree stump. I have no idea where the stump came from, but I wish I knew. I wish I had thought to ask her.
Trees hold stories. The tulip poplar in my yard was just a twig when my oldest son brought it home from school on Arbor Day. We stuck it in the ground not expecting it to grow. The dogwood in our front yard was planted by former owners of our house in memory of a grandmother. The hackberry in our backyard held a treehouse so long that the floor of the treehouse buckled as the tree trunk expanded. Even my Granny’s stump footstool could tell a few stories, I’m sure, if it could talk. I hope it will be around long after I’m gone and my grandson has given it to his grandchildren.
In 1658, Sir Thomas Browne, an English author, wrote, “Generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oaks.” Imagine tracing your family back across the lifespan of three oak trees. According to Garden Guides, the average life of an oak ranges from 100 to 300 years. That’s a long time, time enough for someone to decide it’s just a green thing that’s standing in the way.
But I’ll take my cue from the poplar planted one Arbor Day long ago. It was so small when it was first planted that it got mowed over. Since then it’s been windblown hacked, but still it stands, making the most beautiful tulip-shaped blooms in the spring. There’s a lesson there for those who are open to it.
“You will find something more in woods than in books.
Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters.”
Wishing you shade, shelter, and the beauty of trees this week!
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Text and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.