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Posts Tagged ‘memories of trees’

Tree  2012-12-01 14.47.11 auto

Yule Tree, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2012
by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


No snow buried the ground the day we cut the Winter Yule. Huffing and puffing, we took turns severing trunk from tangled roots. Last summer we had a landscaper install a French drain that streams into the concave hollow of a rain garden we will plant next spring. The energy company marked the lines before digging; that’s when we discovered the blue spruce growing over our gas line. It would have to be removed.

In mid-December, I said to Liz, “Let’s make the spruce our Yule tree.” The handsaw wasn’t far behind. The tree is almost 4 1/2  feet tall with a wide berth that tapers to a slight curve at the top. She grew from a seedling, probably dropped by a songbird that made a pit stop on the mature spruce nearby. Trunk rings indicate that it took six years for this tree to grow 52 inches with a one and 1/2 inch base. Trees are slow and deliberate. They are the slow walkers of the forest.


Rings - 2012-12-01 14.58.06 autoGrowth Rings, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Tree lovers like Liz and I will travel great distances to see hardwoods, softwoods, evergreens, and conifers in their prime. We have visited the oldest red and white pines in Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota, birthplace of the Mississippi River. We have sweated under live oaks near Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home in Savannah, photographed an old gingko at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, and attended a community gathering celebrating the life and death of a 333-year-old Burr Oak near the Franklin Avenue bridge in Minneapolis. On a trip to New Mexico, I stood under the Lawrence tree painted by Georgia O’Keeffe at Kiowa Ranch. In Georgia, my mother and I talked family history under a ginkgo by the Old Government House that was planted in 1791 in commemoration of a visit by George Washington.


Saw 2012-12-01 14.48.26 auto

Saw, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Trees are important to the spiritual aspect of our lives. I can’t imagine a world without trees. Today we celebrate the longest night of the year, Winter Solstice. Tuesday we will celebrate Christmas. The blue spruce in our living room leaves an empty space in the garden. Though wistful when she fell, I am joyful that she gleams from our living room window at the darkest time of year. And that her summer-dried bark will be kindling for next winter‘s Solstice fire.


Home grown tree

Home Grown Tree, Droid Shots, Minneapolis,
Minnesota,photo © 2012 by Liz Schultz.
All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Winter Solstice, December 21st, 2012

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By Bob Chrisman


Trees hold a special place in my memory. I planted lots of trees in the yard of the house where I lived for the first 21 years of my life. The poplar trees went along the north border of the yard next to the gravel alley. They grew tall and then split in heavy winds. I learned that not all trees live a long time.

I planted a maple tree in a spot near the raspberry patch. Subconsciously I must have known that it would grow tall enough to shade the raspberry bushes and keep the sun from nourishing them. It took ten years for the tree to grow to a height sufficient to block the sun on the west end of the patch. By then my mother had stopped picking raspberries and selling them to her friends and neighbors anyway so she didn’t miss those bushes killed by the lack of sunlight.

My favorite tree was the Dutch elm that grew in the side yard. It provided solace to me in my childhood. When I was punished as a very small boy I would take my teddy bear which was as big as I was and carry it to a place under the tree, throw it on the ground, and lie down with my head on his chest and cry. The old black cat would come from wherever he was in the neighborhood and sit next to me and the bear until I stopped crying. Then he would wander off. I would pick up my companion and carry him back into the house.

That tree watched over me for many years until it died of some disease. All those years it escaped the Dutch elm disease only to die of some other cause. I sat and watched as my father cut it down and wondered what life would be like without a place to cry.

I read a book one time about the spirits in trees and how each tree has its own personality. My experience tells me that the spirits do exist. We usually aren’t quiet enough to feel them or hear them. No, they don’t talk like we do, but they express themselves through their movement and the leaves.

The cedar pines outside my grandmother’s farmhouse whispered in the slightest breeze. I curled up on the daybed on the screened in porch and fell asleep to the sounds of those trees talking to each other and the background conversations of my family in the living room of the farmhouse.

At the cemetery about a half mile from my grandmother’s house, the shushing of the cedar pines became the voices of the dead buried among the roots of the trees. No matter how hot the temperature in the world away from those trees, the air under those trees was cold as though when the dead talked they expelled the coldness of the world in which they lived.

The sycamore trees that grow in the park not far from my house spread their branches across large areas. The big leaves provide shade and shelter to all different kinds of birds and humans. People, with their bags of possessions, sleep under the trees during the late afternoon and early evening. People picnic at nearby tables. The walkers and runners appear to relax when they reach the shade.

In the winter these same trees with no leaves looks like skeletal hands reaching toward the sky to beg some god or goddess for the return of spring. The bleached whiteness of the branches against the cold blue skies of winter or the gray clouds that bring snow beseech some higher power for the return of warmth.

The sweet gum tree that grows in my front yard shades the house from the intense afternoon sun. The huge leaves provide hiding places for the squirrels and birds. For some reason no birds nest in the tree. Maybe they know that the wood is too soft sometimes to withstand the windstorms.

In the fall a leaf turns yellow, detaches from the branch, and floats to the ground. Soon the entire tree goes from the vibrant green of summer to the soft yellow of fall. Next the leave fall to the ground covering the yard in a layer of golden yellow and leave the naked black branches to hold the winter snow.



-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – TREES. [NOTE: This was a Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey and ybonesy in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.]

-Also related to posts: PRACTICE: Trees — 15min (by ybonesy) and PRACTICE — Trees — 15min (by QuoinMonkey).

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I don’t have a favorite tree. Not one — many. When I attended the ritual gathering for the oldest tree in Minneapolis, the Northern Burr Oak, I realized that the relationships people have with trees are varied and complex. One man had fallen in love with his wife under the oak; another woman had gone there to find solace and healing when she learned she had cancer. Two poets read poems for the tree. An artist talked about creating sculptures from the branches. Trees are a life force. Like food, water, the air we breathe. I don’t know why we take them for granted, like they will always be there, always be replenished. Trees are our roots.

When I lived in the Northwest, trees were a constant source of tension between landowners, state government, the U.S. National Forest Service. How many trees to let private companies cut down, who would benefit. What about controlled burns that eat up trees, reduce them to cinders. Ponderosa pines, aspens, tamaracks. In the northwest corner of California, the southern tip of Oregon, live the biggest trees I’ve ever seen in my life. The Giant Redwoods. If we had not created federal and state parks, there would be no trees left. We tore down thousands of acres to make way for the railroad, to clear fields for agriculture.

The trees that mean the most to me? Last year, it was a tall skinny Georgia pine, the longleaf pine growing over the graves of my paternal grandparents. They were not part of my life when they were living. It is only since I’ve started researching memoir that I have come to know these kin, and reconnected to family I have not seen since I was 6 years old. In the South, we called family kin. I don’t know the origin of the word. I like to think it comes from kindred, like Kindred Spirits. My Aunt Annette told me that my granddaddy wanted to be buried under that pine tree. He was very specific about that. My mother wants her ashes scattered over Clarks Hill Lake. At least part of them. Again, very specific. Do I want to be scattered over mountain, ocean, forest, or dale?

I loved seeing the pine that Georgia O’Keeffe painted at the D. H. Lawrence Ranch, Kiowa. I’ve seen it three times, each visit standing under the canopy, or lying on a bench, staring straight up through the branches, dreaming of O’Keeffe. Is she in heaven? Ash mixed into her oils? The stroke of a brush. Could she have known that people would travel to that spot in New Mexico, just to stand under her tree, to walk where D.H. Lawrence and Dorothy Brett and Aldous Huxley and Frieda walked.

Oaks make a half circle around our yard. We are surrounded on one side by old growth trees. Who knows what they have seen: the building of neighborhood homes, the planting of gardens, restless children ice skating in the park across the street. Me, moving my belongings from a tiny apartment in Northeast Minneapolis to this hilly plot of land in Golden Valley. I love the oaks. But the most important tree on our land is the green ash in front of the deck that shades us from the sweltering sun. Last year, we were careful to watch for the possibility of an Emerald Ash Borer digging a home in her bark. We watered the ash, had her branches trimmed to keep her healthy. She seems less stressed this year, bushy and green.

In our front yard in Pennsylvania, where my mother still lives, there is a Royal Red Maple that my step-dad planted when we first moved into the house in 1966. There is an old color photograph of my brother as a child, taking out the garbage — that tree is barely at the top of his head. Now it’s a giant with massive roots which tear at the pavement that makes up the hilly drive where I shoveled snow as a child. Behind the house are acres of forest where we rode our mini-bikes in the Summer, went sledding in the Winter, took long walks in the Fall. They found an endangered species there a few years ago and were prohibited from developing the lots. Relief. Spared from the dozer.

For me, New Mexico is the Cottonwood, Montana the Ponderosa, Oregon the Redwoods, Minnesota the Red and White Pines, the South those skinny little Georgia Pines, the longleafs, where I built tree forts and dug caves to keep cool in the Summer. For all my digging, I don’t have a clue. I only know I feel a kindred spirit to the trees. Shade, oxygen, bark for medicine, needles for walls, pecans for good eating, I can’t imagine life without trees.


-Related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC — TREES

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I’ve always noticed the trees where we’ve lived. Growing up on Neat Lane, we had out front a big sycamore that Dad kept trimmed into a tidy globe of leaves. In my memory, there is a sidewalk under the tree where the itch bombs fall and gather. We pick them up and for fun explode them, throw them with all our might onto the sidewalk.

Except, I’ve been back to Neat Lane several times as an adult, and there is no sidewalk. I think there’s a curb, but beyond the curb it is up to each family to landscape their yard. Some people — like Dad — kept their yards worthy of the street’s name. Others (and again, in my faulty memory I see a washing machine and old love seat on the front porch of the neighbors across the street) did not.

It is the trees that attracted me to the house where we live now. Someone, and I imagine it to be a her, lovingly picked out the many trees and placed them all around the house, knowing that one day they would grow huge and tall and would shade the place, keeping it cool from the summer heat.

There are Ponderosas and an ornamental plum that blazes a deep red you can see from the road. There are poplars, one is now diseased on one side, that grow high without becoming wide. The leaves look like the cottonwood except silvery on one side, and in hindsight I realize the poplar reminds me more of an aspen than a cottonwood, although I believe all three are from the same family.

In our old house there was a locust tree that drew me in, outside the kitchen window. How many times did I sit on the cozy warm tiles in that house and write, pausing to stare out at the small deep green leaves of the locust?

Some trees are invasive, I’m thinking now of the elms that Jim got permission from our neighbors to cut down. The elms were on the fence line, Chinese elms, of the variety a former mayor long ago imported to Albuquerque thinking they would grow well in the arid landscape. When Jim felled those elms (and I like using the word “felled” although it seems unnatural to my language) I mourned them. I looked at them as living things, yes invasive, but they provided shade and privacy. Jim saw them as water mongers, non-native species, and I suppose he imagined a different kind of tree, one better for the water table, in their place.

Dad always disliked certain trees. For a long time he and Mom complained about the large Russian olive out front next door. It dropped tiny leaves and spongy fake olives, causing Dad much consternation. A tree is a tree, I would think. Why in the world, how in the world could they dislike a tree?

Russian olives are in fact bad for the valley and come up like little weeds everywhere. Jim has gotten rid of quite a few, but I look at them and think of the old olive trees I saw once in Jerusalem, in Gethsemane’s Garden, and I see how the trees get gnarly and thick, and each layer must have seen a different scene. If you cut back the bark, you’d find a layer that saw Jesus himself.

That’s what I think of when I think of the Russian olive. Or I think of a family photo I remember that hung in the hallway of Jim’s parents’ house. I would stare at that photo when I first went there to visit with Jim. The trunk grew sideways instead of up, and it eventually did grow up, but the sideways portion made a natural bench on which the family sat or leaned. It was a photo of them long ago, when everyone was young and Jim’s parents were at their most vibrant. Something about that photo appealed to me, like I could see marrying into a family that sits around a tree.

I think of trees like people, and I think about how we want to be like trees. Grounded and firm, with strong roots going deep into the land. Sometimes when I water a tree, I think about how the root system underneath is probably as long and wide as the portion of the tree that grows above the ground. Like a mirror image.

If people are like trees, that means that beneath us we have our mirror images, supporting us as we walk, reflecting back to us whatever it is in the core of our earth.

I couldn’t imagine living in a place without trees, and yet what I love about New Mexico is that the tree is sacred. It is not abundant, and when we see it we seek it out for shade. If I had a patron tree, like a patron saint, it would be the cottonwood. Dark, rough bark that protects the soft wood inside. And deep roots. A sign always when you see it that water is nearby.



-Related to Topic post WRITING TOPIC — TREES

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