Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What is Your Favorite Tree?

The Hudson was beautiful this morning when I drove down the hill to the train, the Palisades tinged pink with dawn light and white with snow. But I can't help thinking about that poem of Robert Frost's, which I quoted in a post the other day here. My mind always turns to that poem of Frost's this time of year, or has for a long time.

When I was a little girl (bear with me on this), my favorite tree was the maple. My grandpa Brennan had two massive maple trees in his front yard, and I think we must have had one in ours, too, because one of my favorite things to do in the spring, after the seeds had dried and fallen, was to throw handfuls of them up in the air and watch them spin, lazily down.

And my mother, who must have been hard pressed some days to keep my busy little mind occupied, showed me how to peel the seeds, tearing away the brown fin, and the harder film underneath that held the two halves of the seed together, pale green with its tiny tail of a sprout tucked in. And she gave me glue and paper and showed me how to make designs with the halves of the seeds glued into patterns.

That must have kept me busy for a half hour anyway. We had a grey house in those days, probably built in the early 20th century, with a porch and classic grey porch stairs. Or so I remember it, anyway. And I'd sit on one step and use the next one up as my desk. Pasting away. Then after awhile, mom would bring out a little tray with a tea party on it, and I'd drag out my dolls and serve them all weak tea watered down with tons of milk and sugar, and bits of toast cut into toast points spread with honey. And I'd go around the circle of dolls offering each a sip and a bite, and end the party by eating and drinking it all.

And that was how the maple became my favorite tree. Although the pine was a close second. That was because of Heidi.

I don't think I've ever seen the movie, but in the book, one of the things Heidi loves the most is the roaring of the wind in the pines behind her grandpa's hut. And in our side yard, that same yard with the porch stairs, was a short line of young pines. I would creep in under the pines, where the branches hung low, and study them. Ours didn't roar. But they had a strange white pitch that seeped out from places where branches had been sawn away that, when touched, would make my fingers stick together in a curiously uncomfortable fashion.

Later on, in my 20's in Chicago and then my 30's, in Pennsylvania, the pine became my favorite tree. The early skyscrapers, which Chicago was so famous for, being the city of big shoulders and all, were said to be modeled on the pine, with its long, deep taproot. The pine can flex with the wind, and bend and not snap, because of this taproot. And I liked thinking of the herd of tall Chicago buildings as a stand of pines, and even later, of life as a pine--the deeper one's taproot, the more one can flex and not break in the bitter winds. And when I moved to the Pennsylvania hills and learned to hike in them, I would think of all this, as I hiked among the forests of hemlock.

But now, in my late 40's (I'll be 50 in June, yikes!), the oak has become my favorite tree. The oak is very slow to grow. It takes an entire one of our lifetimes for an oak to grow into its true maturity, and then, with luck, it is just getting started. And I like the idea of a tree that persists like that. There is a stand of oaks across the street from Pugsley, in what is known as the Campwoods Methodist Summer Camp. These oaks are neither young nor old. They're sturdy and strong and striking. I'll snap a shot or two for you.

One of their babies, I think, has rooted under my yews, by the front porch, in its own little protective nursery. And when it gets just a little bigger, I want to transplant it into the front yard and give it space and time to grow.

Another day, I'll write about the trees that have inhabited the Pugsley yard. For now, suffice it to say that it feels to me that the yard and house wants an oak this time. Hopefully if we're lucky that oak will be here with the house long after all of us are gone.

So then, I've managed to talk about everything but Frost this morning. I'll save that for another day. We've got a wait for spring, it seems. And so there will be time enough for that.

In the meanwhile, I'd be curious to know what other people's favorite trees are, and why.

Sent from my iPhone

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