Today is Arbor Day in America. Arbor Day first started in Nebraska on April 22, 1885 due to the efforts of a prominent pioneer, J. Sterling Morton, and his wife. The focus on tree planting caught on and Arbor Day became an official national observance on the last Friday of every April. Trees, trees and more trees make me happy…that is, until I have to trim them, rake their leaves, clean up after storms, etc. Otherwise, trees are a diverse wonderment. They provide shade, fruit, shelter from the elements, wood for building thousands of things, plus sheer beauty throughout every season. ” The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now ” Chinese Proverb
I shot this image the other day as the afternoon sun highlighted the trunks and ladder. After downloading this photograph I forgot about it until I came across it yesterday while looking for a different image. I was reminded why I took this photo in the first place: the combination of natural bark on multiple trunks contrasting with the summer-stained ladder was pleasing to my eye, and conjured up several thoughts about this tree (and trees, in general).
I planted this silver maple a decade ago near my driveway. I did so in an attempt to strategically block the view between our house and our neighbor’s deck which sits on a lower lot next to us. I also chose this type of tree because it grows fast and produces a reasonably thick canopy of protection from storms. What I failed to take into consideration was the proximity to the driveway and house, the speed in which it matured in size, the weakness of the splayed upper trunks, and the annoying seeds which fall like whirly-birds to the ground, and into gutters, and everywhere else they like to congregate. I have learned much about arbores since then.
The ladder story comes with a different twist. I found it last year at a home I was remodeling. It is an antique because of its round rungs and curved rails which widen at the base. When I discovered it, this tool was weathered grey and splintered, but was in respectable shape, otherwise. Considering the number of years she laid outside, I was impressed with its ruggedness so I hauled her home, sanded her down real smooth and gave her two coats of deck stain with water-repellant. The reason I leaned her against the maple came from a mental image I had taken in my mind when I visited Italy fourteen years ago. While in Tuscany I saw a similar style ladder laid high against a fruit tree. That ladder was much longer than my fourteen footer, but the iconic scene captured me because it represented centuries of fruit picking in a romanticized landscape. The net result of this memory implored me to lay my inspiration against my mistakenly placed tree. I can’t blame Cheryl for wondering about my yard art, but she was a good sport about it.
As I was thinking about trees and wood, I quickly concluded that one is created while the other is crafted. For the created, I thought how many varieties of trees there are. I contemplated the vastness of forests and the barrenness of deserts and mountaintops. I considered the elderly Giant Sequoia’s of California and the expansive canopy of trees in the massive Amazon rain forest (390 billion trees in 2.1 million square miles!). I recalled the unique Baobab’s of Madagascar and the palms of an oasis. I remembered the fruit and ornamental trees in my yard as I grew up…we had apple and peach, walnut and cherry, redbud and crabapple. We had maples and oaks, ash, and even a mimosa. All of these wonderful trees grew on a fairly small plot of ground. I think it was then, as a child, that I fell in love with trees.
And, for the crafted things made from trees, I got to thinking about all that man has made from wood: great sailing vessels and violins, ornate fireplace mantels and pencils, log cabins and axe handles , fences and spears, hangman’s gallows and baby cribs, teepee supports and toothpicks. Too many creations to name, but fun to contemplate. I think all would agree that wood is an extremely versatile product that has benefitted mankind since his creation and the need to shelter and protect himself.
Not wanting to overstate the usefulness of trees, but consider the creatures which make their home or derive their existence from trees. From birds and squirrels and monkeys which nest in trees to amphibians and insects which thrive in and on them, eating their leaves and bark for nourishment. They, in turn, become food for sloths and bats and spiders. There are many mammals which eat the fruit of trees such as deer, opossum and even our dog! Trees provide protection from storms and predators, and eventually shed their precious cargo of leaves or needles which carpet the earth creating a bed of decay for further growth in the chain of life. Let’s not forget the vast network of roots which stave off soil erosion or the process of photosynthesis through leaves which provides oxygen in our atmosphere. Trees are remarkable, aren’t they? I find them inspiring.
In addition to all of this, trees are simply lovely to look at. With hundreds of genus and a multitude of species, there is a size and shape and fragrance for every imagination. No one can deny the breathtaking beauty of deciduous foliage during the Fall months or the valiant conifers standing tall on a snow-covered mountain range. The special quiet of a forest during the dawn or the wonder of a single cedar standing on a rock ledge overlooking the ocean are undeniably some of natures grandest features. God certainly gave us a gift when He created trees. John Muir would agree. I hope you do, too.