I have a love affair….
Since I was a boy balancing on the roots of the large oak tree in the front yard of my childhood home or climbing the massive branches of the giant magnolias in front of the Decatur recreation center, I have loved trees. I have been a tree hugger since way before the term was ever popular.
It was my love of trees, I believe, that lead me to set the goal years ago of reaching the California old growth woods when I drove across the country to the Southwest. It was the draw of sitting at the base of a giant sequoia, standing and looking up the vast trunks of these ancient trees, feeling so minuscule and temporary next to some of the biggest and oldest organisms on the planet, that was a necessity to me. Something I not only desired but felt truly compelled to experience. Some of these trees have survived since the time of Christ. They have outlived storms and droughts and fires and earthquakes. They have survived, though barely, the onslaught of the human push west in this country and the logging industry and our desire for their coveted tight grained, bug resistant lumber. These trees are magnificent. They are a treasure. They deserve respect. They deserve to be cherished. They held me in awe and filled me with sorrow at the thought of cutting such incredible living things. They were worth the trip.
As a boy, family vacations often took us north to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia and North Carolina, the lower end of the Appalachian chain. The woods of the north Georgia parks were thick with oaks and large evergreen trees towering above the rhododendron and mountain laurel sheltered in their shade. I loved walking on the soft padded surface of tiny hemlock needles, smelling the rich damp forest. Trees large enough for a child to hide behind in a game of hide-and-seek.
The Appalachian trail begins here and stretches all the way up through the Smokies and the Shenandoah and the Allegheny of Pennsylvania, the Green and White Mountains and Berkshire Hills of New England, all the way to Maine and Quebec. From the pines and hemlocks and hickories and oaks of the South to the spruce and maple and aspen and birch of the North. In the Spring they are dotted with redbud and dogwood and wild cherry. It’s a beautiful experience.
Since moving north to New York, I have developed a great affection for many of the species that are native here. I had never experienced the real New England autumn with maples ablaze with red and orange and gold until moving to New York in the 70’s. The woods here are rich with these trees and their colors are spectacular.
I have also developed a deep love of sycamore trees. Their mottled bark is like a gorgeous exotic lizard’s skin. They can be tall and statuesque, or short and massive and spreading. They congregate around water, by lakes and stream beds, giving shade to the frogs and pockets of trout and the fishing blue herons along the creeks. They are stately and beautiful often standing as the lone tree in the fields of rural farms. They have great variety and personality.
I have a great passion for beech trees as well. These trees have a beautiful sculptural bark like the skin of an elephant. Large homes around this area are often graced with copper beech with their deep red leaves and sprawling branches creating wonderful shade. In winter, the beech trees tend to hold their leaves all winter long, hanging like pale brown paper lanterns among the bare branches of the New York woods.
Along the shore and inlet to Cayuga Lake here in Ithaca, the walkways and parks are lined with willow trees. These are the first trees here to get their leaves in the spring and the last to loose them in the winter. Their drooping branches are fitting for their location by the water echoing the ripples on the waters surface with every breeze of the summer. A perfect picnic spot.
In my numerous trips south to Florida I have always loved the highways that travel through the southern Georgia pecan groves. Beautiful, graceful trees spaced in wide grids. And as you go further south, the expansive paper company properties stretch out covered with row after row of tall, slender, fast growing pines. The ground beneath them carpeted with pale red pine needles and palmetto palms, a haven for armadillos and rattlesnakes.
Once on the coast, the sprawling live oaks with their Spanish moss, the stands of tall slender pines, and the palms of all varieties provide a wonderful contrast to the dense forests of the northern states. I have made a project of palm trees when I am in Florida. I love their variety, their graceful curving fronds, and the swishing sound made when the ocean breezes stir them.
Trees are wonders of our world, examples of living life in balance, standing firm and strong, yet yielding and flexible. I’ve had fantasies that trees are talking with one another as we speed about like flashes of light, they live in their own slow motion world, meditative and wise. Or that when we see the trees wave in the wind, that it is not the wind stirring the trees, but the trees waving about in celebration, creating the breeze. When I pass, perhaps my cremated ashes will be spread at the bottom of some great stately tree, that I might be absorbed through the roots and become part of this beautiful living thing, standing quietly, enduring and graceful. That would make me happy.
All images are copyright © George Cannon / All rights reserved.