Love a Tree Day
May 16th is Love a Tree Day. Trees have figured prominently in my life, even if only with the clarity of hindsight. It’s easy to go on about their obvious benefits: shade, oxygen, erosion management. In a different way, though, trees have been a subtle force that have shaped my life.
When I was 7 years old, our family moved to North Carolina from the northeast. The house we moved to was set in what I remember as a lovely, wooded neighborhood with pine trees galore. They were the kind of soaring pines we don’t see much in Connecticut – the trunks were tall and straight and the branches didn’t grow until high above the ground. Not the best climbing trees, but I can still feel the soft, springy, light brown carpet of needles under our feet as we explored the woods, inventing vivid histories when we’d come across an abandoned barn or foundation. There must have been hardwood varieties of trees, too, because the next 5 years, according to my memory, were spent in a nearly endless summer, building tree-forts with a gaggle of neighborhood conspirators (and you could only build forts in trees with stronger, and more reachable, branches).
For me, it was also a time of developing, and then honing my tree-climbing skills. I’m sure I started small – shorter trees with lower branches that made it fairly easy to ascend to what seemed like death-defying heights. I clearly remember silently judging trees we’d come across based upon their “climbability“ the just-so placement of branches that would make it possible to work my way upward to commune with the birds and the squirrels (who, naturally, were not hanging around waiting for me when I got up there, despite my Disney princess fantasies).
As I improved my proficiency, the quarry became larger and more challenging: the first branch higher; the vertical distance between branches a little too far beyond a comfortable reach. Usually, I’d set my sights on some high-up perch that seemed like it would be the perfect spot to survey the world and dream or evade detection in a game of hide-and-seek. Often it would take days upon days of attempts to vanquish the next “rung” in the climb, strategizing the best angle of approach, trying and failing until I got it right; or simply building up the right muscle in my ankle or shoulder or even finger. The trees gave up little, other than some bark lodged under my fingernails or scraped into my shin. They taught me perseverance and the soaring elation of hard-fought accomplishment facing something powerful and unyielding.
When we moved back to Connecticut, our new house was surrounded by woods. I ventured out in search of more targets but discovered to my chagrin that no beckoning branches awaited. I came to a quiet détente with an enormous hemlock that crowned a rise in the back, which, though too dense for climbing, offered a carpet of its own tiny needles and a hollow space below a section of its lowest branches, which formed the whispering green ceiling of an outdoor room you could crawl into and disappear. (At 12, I was just beginning a stretch of horribly awkward pre-adolescence, so invisibility often became my power).
At my grandparent’s house, though, were two excellent climbers: a maple just off the back of the driveway, and an old willow that sat on the border between their house and Aunt Irene and Uncle Ray’s next door. The adults never hid their distaste for the willow, complaining of how “dirty” it was, always dropping twigs and smaller branches, and how buggy. I only saw the perfect ladder of its branches, refusing to acknowledge its obvious decline over the few remaining seasons when climbing still held its fascination.
Trees also taught me an appreciation of winter through, of all things, sunsets. Something in the timing of our winter activities in my teens meant I’d be in the car, transiting to or from some activity, cresting the hill up the street from our house as the sky blazed its goodnight. At first, all I saw was the sky, until one night I noticed the tree line against it and my entire world shifted a little bit. The contrast of the stark, leafless branches silhouetted against that glowing watercolor sky still takes my breath away, reminding me of the wonder and beauty in every season.
Every fall I’m simultaneously sad and elated when I notice the first hints of bright orange and red pushing through the green at the tops of the maple trees. Then I’m equally annoyed and amused at the stubbornness of so many of the oaks as they clutch their crispy brown leaves, sometimes all the way through winter, before finally giving them up in a gasp just as their yellow pollen begins its shenanigans, coating everything in sight and turning my nose into a drippy May faucet. I watch with awe and amazement as, every year, the ancient pink dogwood that sits at the center of the circle garden in the middle of my driveway, still buds and blooms, despite the decline that is now obvious to my adult eyes. It continues to feed the winter birds with its berries, but I know from the spreading lichens and one or two additional branches that seem to die each year, that its end is coming. That just makes me love it so much more.
Author: Marcia Formica
I am an evolving experiment in self-actualization. After a 31+ year corporate career, I ditched my suits and pumps and finally tumbled into my “why” in the fall of 2018. I'm working on my first book, a humorous and sometimes harrowing account of surviving, and even thriving through, an 8 (ok - maybe more like 10)-year home renovation project being jointly delivered by my husband and me, with an occasional few contractors and (sometimes more than) a little help from our friends. I continue to share the ongoing saga on my Hump-Day House Stuff posts. My passion for the links between food and public and environmental health can be found in my "Food Friday" posts. For fun (and profit), I am a practitioner of value investing and disciplined trading strategies. I've been on the adventure of marriage to my husband Tim since 1993. We have 2 (arguably) grown sons, James and Owen, and the best family (including my mom & dad, whose care I'm helping with, which I also blog about in Mom & Dad Monday) and friends I could ever have imagined for myself.
You can find more of Marcia's writing at www.fireoverfifty.com