I’m from New Jersey. Yes, we have trees, but we don’t pay a lot of attention to them – or at least I didn’t. So I was amazed to actually notice the different shapes and sizes of the leaves, and how they belong to different types of trees. I am grateful to that teacher for assigning that project, and I hope state testing requirements haven’t caused teachers to do away with it.
Trees are great. We recently hiked along Rails to Trails from North West Street to Halfway Road and back. It was cold. There was a bitter wind. But we didn’t notice the bitter wind until we got to the part of the trail that goes along open farm fields. Before that, the trees sheltered us.
Trees not only provide shelter from the wind, but also shade from the sun. A walk in the summer along a tree-lined street is tolerable; a walk where there are no trees as the sun beats down without mercy is impossible, except in the early morning or the late evening.
I have been to the redwood forest in California, and I have seen gigantic trees that have trunks nearly the width of a small house. But a tree does not have to be huge to be beautiful.
We have four evergreens — two in front and two in back — that started out as one small branch. They were giveaways from McDonald’s one year when we were traveling East and stopped for lunch. My kids were small and insisted that we follow the directions and plant them. I was dubious, but as I said, they are now majestic trees. And there is the weeping willow we bought years ago from a local greenhouse. For some reason we had a gift certificate to use there and we chose the weeping willow in memory of our daughter who died. I remember the baby tree fit in our car. Now, it is much bigger and would never fit in our car. When our children were young, we buried the dead birds they occasionally found and their dead pet fish in the dirt under its branches.
A tree — any tree — can be a landmark. There was a tree on our tree lawn by which I always judged the location of my driveway as I backed the car out. That tree was declared dangerous and removed by the city, and I still miss it.
Trees can be dangerous. The wind can knock down branches and sometimes uproot trees that are not strong enough to withstand its force. One large branch once crashed into our roof, causing major damage. Another, after a huge storm in Chicago, crashed into our daughter’s boyfriend’s car. The car could never be driven again. The way he accepted this, even though he had no insurance to replace the car (the tree falling on it was an “act of nature”), showed us what a strong person he is, with an admirable sense of priorities.
Trees are homes. We once watched birds build a nest in the evergreen (one of the ones that started from a mere branch) which had grown so tall it could be seen outside our daughters’ second floor bedroom window. And when the baby birds emerged, we watched the mother bird feed them tirelessly, until one day they left the nest.
Trees are for climbing. They are a challenge for children to meet and surmount. Tree climbing does not require an elegant, expensive, parent-put-together swing set with a jungle gym and slide. Trees provide exercise and fun (and yes, a little danger) for children.
Trees are also beautiful.
Did you see how the snow stuck to one side of each tree in our recent snowstorm? The snow outlined every branch and trunk. And then there’s the way branches look after an ice storm, each one encased in glassy beauty. Soon, I look forward to seeing buds and then the fresh new leaves. And of course there’s the fall, with red, yellow and orange leaves. The skeletal branches of winter allow us to see the buildings that lie beyond the trees, but not for long. Soon the leaves of the trees will provide privacy — just another one of their gifts to us. Not to mention the nuts they drop — acorns, walnuts, buckeyes — and the fruit they bear, and the cones and twirly things they drop on the ground in order to reproduce.
One more thing about trees that I like: aside from the occasional creaking in the wind and the soft rustling of leaves in the breeze, trees are silent. They don’t need to make a sound. And they won’t protest anything I’ve written about them in this column.
Debbie Leffler is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.