Trees provide shade. Leaves turn yellow/red and fall off in the fall. Apples grow on trees. Pecans grow on trees. When I was in third grade that was about all I knew about trees, and I never thought about them. Then I learned in science that trees give us oxygen, and I already knew that we needed oxygen! For two or three weeks, wherever I went, I looked around to be sure there was a tree in sight. I didn’t want to be caught in an oxygen famine!
This fixation wore off in a couple of weeks, and again I ignored trees.
Fast forward a few decades — I had learned more about the importance of trees, and began to notice the aesthetics of trees. Occasionally I see a tree with a straight trunk, and at just the right height off the ground there is an orb-shaped crown, with no thin places and no branches sticking out. Across the street from my house is a pine tree whose trunk is straight up the middle, and the shape of the tree is symmetrical; the branches at the bottom are wide and gradually get narrower near the top. But Mother Nature doesn’t do that very often. That would be too “Stepford.”
The strangest tree I’ve ever seen is the Palmetto Palm. When we were in Charleston I looked at some closely for the first time and thought “what odd bark.” The trunk was covered with woody slats that criss-crossed up the tree, making a basket weave pattern. Under the woody “things” and visible between them at some places was a hairy, fibrous, stiff substance.
I did a little research about them when we returned home. One article did not call them “trees,” but “plants.” The “trunk” was called a “stem.” Botanically and structurally, they are different from trees. I never learned what the fibrous layer is, but the woody, basket-weave formation is made of the remnants of frond stalks when the fronds fall off. Fascinating.
Not too many weeks later we went to the NC coast, not to check out palms. But at Sunset Beach we were in a place where there were Palmettos, and a place to stop the car and get out. An opportunity to look up into the palm and see this phenomenon for myself! Indeed, each stalk of a fan-like frond emerged from a slat that looked already hard. I am glad there were palms around the parking lot at our motel in Charleston so I could become friends with this plant.
I enjoy noticing trees. Some are graceful and flow-y, all the branches growing upward at maybe 20° angles off the vertical. Others are full of sharp angles going in all directions. They look hard and rigid instead of willowy, and sometimes even spooky.
In spring the leaves are delicate and fresh; when in sun they appear to be lit from within. In summer the leaves are mature, steady, reliable, sturdy, shading the ground. In fall the paintbrush comes out with all the glorious colors.
But, give me the bare winter trees. With no leaves, their structure, their bare bones show, in all their astonishing variety. I love the mountains in winter when I can look up a slope into the forest instead of at the forest, and see the shapes, and the shadows on the snow or the brown leaf litter.
Like the Lorax, I’ll speak for the trees.
Wishing you a tree you can call your own.