I’ve been thinking about trees –
what is it about trees?
It occurs to me that they’re the homo sapiens of the plant world,
upright, branches outstretched, each one different from
the next one. Certain trees are planted deep in my memory,
yes, two maples, two tulip trees, and one big blue spruce
shade the back yard in Syracuse. A white-blossomed dogwood that I
look down upon from a bedroom window, cabbage palmettos
at my grandparents’ house with Easter eggs hidden in the old leaf bases. Dark-leaved
Japanese maples, twisted and sinewy, gracefully sprawl on the hill at Greyston. The tall
oak where the racoon family lived, the huge copper beech at Wave Hill.
Sidewalk ginkgos in New York, the fragrant linden walk at Columbia University,
the half-prostrate old willow at Juanita Bay.
I’d like to write you a poem about the trees I’ve loved, but I can only
recite their agreed-upon names, their remembered locations. I can only tell you
they are rooted in my brain, and waiting for companions which
just now, thread their way through my synapses, these
trees of my new home:
madrone, cedar, poplar, fir,
With apologies to visitors whose primary language isn’t English, here are excepts from two online sources about the origin of the English word, “tree.”
The word tree derives from the the Greek word drys-drees (oak; δρυς) by changing D into T. During ancient times oak was the wood that was usually used.
From the same root:
Druid, duration, endure, durable
- A Madrone tree (Arbutus menziesii), also called arbutus or madrona. These striking trees have twisting branches and brightly colored, peeling bark. They’re native to the west coast, roughly from San Fransisco to Vancouver. This one was injured long ago; it looks like a sapsucker tried his luck here. Bowman Bay, Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island, Washington.
- More madrones lean into the light on the Lighthouse Point trail at Deception Pass State Park.
- Dead madrone branches can be as beautiful as live ones. Washington Park, Fidalgo Island, Washington.
- Even this downed giant, probably a Douglas fir, continues to support life on the beach at Bowman Bay.
- Along a trail at Whistle Lake, on Fidalgo Island, cedars and firs mix with a few moss-covered Bigleaf maple trees.
- A gracefully rooted Redcedar (Thuja plicata), its striated bark hosting a wash of pale green lichens, stands tall at Deception Pass State Park.
- At Bowman Bay, afternoon sunlight shines on several Saskatoon trees, creating complicated patterns of light and shade reminiscent of stained glass.
- A huge old Douglas fir at Heart Lake, on Fidalgo Island. The upturned, feathery branches of a Western hemlock growing directly behind it give the fir tree a celebratory air.
- A view through tall trees at Cranberry Lake, which, along with Heart lake and Whistle Lake, is part of the almost 2800 acres of forest lands preserved for recreational use on Fidalgo Island. Many of the trees seen here are Douglas firs. Some rusty orange leaves from Redcedar trees that are stressed because of drought can be seen on the left, along with bright green Bigleaf maple leaves and duller, pendant Douglas fir branches in the background.
- On a rocky, exposed bluff at Larrabee State Park, a Shore pine (Pinus contorta) holds a few green branches aloft. They may look fragile, but they must be very sturdy!
- Skagit Valley farms are punctuated by tall poplar trees that farmers have planted between fields. Some are very sizable specimens, like this one outside La Conner. In the background, more poplars are almost obscured by the haze of smoke from wildfires burning hundreds of miles away.
- Washed up into a rocky cove at Larrabee State Park, this log has been smoothed to a fine, regular pattern of tiny cracks. When you think about the long life of a tree, you may realize it goes through many, many stages, changing its appearance over and over again.
- An immense Douglas fir that somehow escaped logging graces the old road to Whistle lake, dwarfing the young woman running with her dog (note who carries the pack!). As trees age, their bark develops deep furrows, not unlike our own wrinkles. The ancients are full of character.