Monday, March 2, 2009


I love trees, and I can tell tree stories from now until Christmas.

I imagine right about now you're typing a note to self into your Blackberry: don't have a beer with McMama. Settle down, now. It's not as bad as all that.

Tree story #1: (Yes, this one's pure nostalgia. Feel free to skip it if you're allergic.)

We had a maple tree in the front yard of our house in Cedar Rapids, and at some point my dad attached a platform to the lowest branches so we could sit in it. He didn't bother with those stairs you sometimes see screwed into the trunk, so we had to jump and catch the branch with our hands, and then sort of twist up onto the platform. I spent whole summer days sitting out there with my sisters, reading books. Really, that's what we did. No clubs, no playing house, no hiding and jumping on people. We sat in the tree and read. It was lovely, green, cooler than indoors, and (we liked to think) private. In the fall the tree turned gold, and it was lovely in a whole brighter way.

Sadly, the tree house came down when the neighbor decided that he didn't like kids sitting in the tree. He was elderly, cranky, and obsessed with our comings and goings. Mom and Dad, being peacemakers above all, removed the platform. After that we sat on the branches, but it wasn't as easy to read because you had to keep at least a bit of your attention reserved for not falling out. Sometimes I try to understand what it was about kids reading in a tree that might have set the old guy off, but I'll never know. The old guy, the kids, and the tree are long gone.

Tree story #2:

When we moved to the house where we live now, my husband spent quite a lot of time and effort thinning out the trees around the edge of our yard. The guy who lived here before us was enthusiastic about trees - too much so, in fact. Every Christmas he would buy a living tree and plant it randomly in the yard at the end of the season. There were also baby fruit trees which were struggling to survive, having been unceremoniously dumped into holes - again, at random. My husband liked to sit on the balcony and evaluate things on a Friday night, and then haul out a tree or two over the weekend. I remember one day when a friend of mine had stopped by for a chat. We were sitting on the balcony, and after a while she pointed to my husband and said, "Did you want that peach tree? Because he's looking at it."

I mention this because we have the opposite situation now. Starting in 2001, we've lost eleven mature trees from our yard: a bottle brush tree, a eucalyptus, a box elder, a Norfolk Island pine, six Italian cypress, and an Englemann oak. The box elder contracted a fungus, the oak appears to have died from old age and will be removed this summer, and the rest all died from insect pests which have become problems in this area due to drought. Just for the record, I was listening to an interview on NPR one day about climate change, and the climatologist being interviewed was asked what the first sign of climate change was likely to be. "Dead trees," she said.

They've removed over a million dead trees from the Lake Arrowhead area of the San Bernardino Mountains, and that's just a drop in the bucket. Dead trees coat the slopes in places, and burn like nobody's business during the fire season.

Tree story #3:

Back when Youngest Daughter was in elementary school, there was a vacant lot we passed each morning on our way to the school. It was a standard vacant lot - lots of weeds sprinkled with trash - except that at one end there was a grove of some kind of evergreen tree with wonderful spreading branches and gnarled trunks. YD would say, "Someday I'm going to climb those trees," and I would nod and agree that they certainly deserved climbing.

Eventually the lot was sold and a sign went up announcing the upcoming housing development. "Wow," YD and I would say. "How cool to have those great trees to shade your new house." One morning, as we drove past, we saw that there were a couple of backhoes in the lot, clearing the land at the far end away from the trees. We were mildly excited because we thought it would be fun to watch the houses go up. Coming home that afternoon, we looked forward to seeing how much work had been done.

When the lot came into view, we saw that the trees had been torn out of the ground and lay in twisted pieces on the ground, heartwood exposed, crowns drooping but still green. YD gave a strangled cry of pain, and I probably did too. It was so violent! They hadn't cut the trees down, they'd attached chains to them and simply wrenched them apart.

We never took that route again, and I've only seen the finished houses once. They're packed in like sardines, identical little houses painted in pastel colors with white trim. Seven years later, there are no mature trees anywhere in the development, so I'm sure the cooling costs in the summer are astronomical. And I'm still mad.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Cathy, I loved the stories. It brings back memories.

We always had tree houses. One of our favorites built by my brothers and I was in a huge tree and I'm not sure what type of tree it was, but it was in a grove of trees beyond the yard. This one had huge wide limbs. We decided to build a Tarzan styled tree house--well as much as our pre-teen ability would allow. It had two levels.

Dad got us some sturdy ropes and made use Braid them for strenth. We had several--you know so we could swing from one tree to the next. But we spent many a day in that grove telling each other stories and then acting out some of them. There were days I sat up there and read. There is something special about reading high above the ground with the sound of katydids and bees and the smell of black eyed susans and goldenrod releasing their scent in the hot summer sun.

Not far away, maybe a couple hundred feet, we had masses of honeysuckle vines that had been growing for years. Enough to make *caves* and tunnels in. Can you imagine the adventures?

The breezes always seem to hit the platforms. It was a good adventure for kids. A good place to dream...

McMama said...

Oh, thank you, Sia. You've captured it precisely. I loved the sound of the leaves whispering all around in the breeze.

As to Tarzan ropes - a friend I worked with grew up on a ranch in Wyoming. He told me he once strung a rope from the top of the barn to the middle of the corral so he could slide down Tarzan-style. He only used it once. Halfway down, suspended between earth and sky, he could see the stake in the middle of the corral working its way out of the ground...:-o


Imaginista said...

I rarely click on the blog links over at Maragaret and Helen's but today I clicked yours and I am so glad I did! What beautiful stories centering around a unified theme. Now I am in the mood to find a nice platform in a tree and read. Alas, I am at work.

--Blue Girl said...

I have a nostalgic tree, too. My dad brought an olive tree back from someplace in the middle east and planted it in the southeast corner of the huge yard that surrounded my grandmas farmhouse in North Missouri. The climate was incompatible with it ever bearing fruit, but it was a beautiful tree, and I loved the leaves that felt like velvet, and it had two branches growing perpendicular from the trunk and offset from one another. I spent entire days in that tree, sitting on the lower branch and leaning against the higher one. I read book after book after book sitting on those branches.

I think that "On Walden Pond" took because I read it in that tree the last summer before grandma moved into town and I discovered trashy novels like those churned out by Jackie Suzanne.

Without that tree, the wrong written word might have made me a very different person...