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Wednesday, 01 December 2010 21:20

The Naturalist's Corner: There’s jus’ sumthin’ bout a tree

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I mean, where would you hang a tire swing if there were no trees? How could you lay back and watch the sky rock back and forth filling the jigsaw spaces between the leaves with ever-changing bits of sky and cloud? Or, how could you reach that cool deep hole in the middle of the bayou without a rope tied to a friendly, strong furrowed arm reaching out over the water?

Sure, trees provide an array of environmental benefits. They help provide clean air and water plus they provide food and shelter for a host of different species of wildlife. But trees are more than that — trees have soul.

Huge water oaks, Quercus nigra, were dominant across the landscape of Mer Rouge, the tiny farming community in northeastern Louisiana, where I grew up. So notable they were that they inspired Mer Rouge High’s alma mater — “Through the stately oaks we glimpse …”

In the yard of the ramshackle shotgun house that was home, there were three of these behemoths. They were home to fox squirrels, raucous red-headed woodpeckers and barred owls. Colorful Baltimore orioles would weave their intricate basket-nests near the tips of the high branches in summer. And on those hot July and August afternoons they would plop huge cool shadows down to play catch in.

And trees can be so enduring. Methuselah is a 4,841-year-old bristlecone pine living in the White Mountains of California. Methuselah’s location is kept secret so it doesn’t suffer the same fate as an even older cousin, Prometheus, who was cut down in 1964.

These elders live all around the world. Sarv-e Abarqu, a 4,000-year-old cypress tree in Iran is thought to be the oldest living organism in Asia. A 4,000-year-old yew graces the churchyard of St. Dygain’s

Church in Wales and in Florida there is a 3,500-year-old bald cypress, The Senator, thought to be the oldest of its species.

And these are living organisms produced from a single seed, or in tree language — non-clonal. Clonal trees are those species that sprout stems or trunks from a common rootstock like willows, aspens and others. The rootstock from some clonal tree species is believed to be hundreds of thousands of years old. One colony of Aspens, named Pando, from the Fishlake National Forest in Utah is listed as anywhere from 80,000 to 800,000 years old.

And because trees move us so:

 

“Why are there trees I never walk under but large and

melodious thoughts descend upon me?”

— Walt Whitman

 

It is often sad to think about the shortsighted way our ancestors fell upon the forests of this continent with axe and saw obliterating thousands of years of history in a few hours.

But because trees move us so:

 

Lovely, glistening, green, swaying back and forth.

Flowers blossoming in the spring.

Horses nibbling on the bark.

Bugs feasting on the leaves.

Leaves whispering to the wind,

dancing in the sun.

Reaching to the sky.

My favorite tree.

— Melissa, age 10

 

There’s promise that with foresight, children will sit beneath trees a thousand years old that Melissa wrote about as a child.

 

Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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