Sunday, February 10, 2008

Memories of Trees

Yesterday I mentioned how I remember the trees in my life. I thought today I'd talk about them a little bit.

- The first trees I remember having special meaning to me were the weeping willows in my neighbor's yard. The older neighborhood kids ran their "club" under those trees When I was invited to join the group, I felt like I was something special. The willows sheltered us from the grownups. Their sweeping branches were the perfect hideout.
- In my backyard we had a weeping cherry that we cut down. The mud pit left in its wake was a favorite spot for playing, especially for a tomboy.
- In my yard we also had a mimosa that was cut down when it suffered from disease. The spot it left behind was empty and sad. As a young child, the cherry's mud pit was much more exciting than the cherry tree. As an older child, the fuzzy pink flowers of the mimosa made a greater impression.
- In my yard we also had crab apple trees from which we would garner the gruit and make applesauce for winter. Picking the apples up from the ground was an annoying chore as we picked through a never ending pit of rotting fruit before it burned out the lawn.
- Finally, I fondly remember the dogwood in front of my bedroom window. Its perfectly shaped flowers greeted the spring. As an adult I have sought the perfect dogwood to plant up here in honor of my fond childhood memories.
Humans can form a special bond with the trees. To me, they each seem like characters in my life play. With some we develop special attachment -- friendships that can last a lifetime.

My sister spent her childhood climbing the mimosa tree in a neighbor's yard while chasing butterflies. I did not have a special fondness for that particular arbor. It was Liz's tree until new neighbors bought the property and put a fence around the backyard. This effectively cut my sister off from one of her best friends. She was very sad to lose that tree from her life.

My first home as an adult was on a corner plot of land. We owned the property up to the woods and the woods themselves were actually on the corner. We lived in that house for six years and felt somewhat buffered from the busy streets that surrounded us because of the woods next door. We were told or we assumed when we moved in that the land that held the woods was too small to accommodate houses. Then, one day the wrecking machines came it, clearcutting the woods to put up three houses on tiny little plots. I was devastated. I cried as the machines did their dirty work. I told my husband that I needed to move.

We found a property surrounded by trees, but it took time. The first house the realtor showed us was new construction on clearcut land. The developed showed us around. I asked him why they clearcutted to build their houses. Why didn't they work around the trees? He said that people wanted large grassy spaces and did not want trees. I find that hard to believe....I find that very sad. I love living among swaying trees that shelter my family and harbor wildlife. They create an atmosphere of warmth and compassion. I am at one with nature in my house on the hill surrounded by woods.

My photography generally focuses on macro views of flowers, but once in awhile I change the lens to stand back and take a look at the trees. My favorite trees to photograph are birch trees. They are quintessential New England - very Robert Frost and elegant. I am also particularly fond of a unique tree at Greeley Park in Nashua NH. I go back every season to photograph this ancient looking tree with twisting boughs. (I've included its photo here.) I am also fond of the trees in front of the Manchester City Library. They also have an ancient look about them and must have been planted when the library was first built. Back then we had foresight to incorporate regal plantings into our construction projects. What have we lost? Frederick Law Olmsted would be horrified by our current building efforts. He worked so hard to incorporate trees and we work so hard to take them out.

If you want to read something wonderful, check out photographer James Balog's Tree: A New Vision of the American Forest. The book contains Balog's fantastic tree portrait collages. The trees he photographs are so large that he takes many photos of their parts and pastes them together to show the whole. He swings from ropes on each tree to pull himself into the best positions to capture the tree's unique personalities. His writing about his work is powerful, but the photos themselves are awe inspiring.

Hug a tree today. (Or at least take a look at one and smile!)

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