Dancing Trees

DSCF7829

The Gnome has enjoyed playing a woodlands game with our grandchildren during their respective toddlerhoods. He’ll pick them up, hold them in his arms, and place their ears next to one of the large trees in our small forest. “Shh,” he’ll say, in his own hushed voice. “Listen.” After a few pregnant seconds, he asks if they can hear the tree.

Inevitably, they do. Is the unfettered imagination of childhood innocence at work, or are the sounds real? Whatever, watching a small child’s eyes light up, a grin spreading across a lollipop-cheeked face—such moments are pure magic.

On these spring days and nights when the wind skims across the peaks of our mountains in its furious attempt to get who-knows-where, it leaves a few things in its wake.

The crack of still-bare limbs clanging against each other as if they’re engaged in some ancient battle, wooden branches as swords, breaks the silence. Sometimes, one cuts the other to the quick, sending it crashing through other branches on the way to its final destination below.

The wind has an entirely different effect on other trees. Norway spruce and Fraser firs we once imagined growing into a profitable Christmas tree business overwhelmed us—and everything else around. Today, they are jolly evergreen giants, having grown to eighty feet or more, long branches drooping under their own verdant weight.

Wind bends, but never breaks, these resilient trees. Instead, they nod their heads to each other in rhythmic time, their outstretched branches bowing and swaying as if in some sort of complicated old folk dance. It seems they’re almost smiling, wordlessly saying, “It’s okay. I’ve got you covered.”

And they have, in a way. In such close proximity, each supports and shelters its neighbors from the wind’s potential danger. Even more, they create a haven for the wildlife that give us so much pleasure: deer, bears, the squirrels who race through branches in the height of their springtime romantic frenzies, hoppy rabbits, stripey skunks, and of course, the myriad songbirds who seek solace and grow little bird families in the protection of their branches.

 

The long, graceful, ballerina arms of our tallest neighbors wave at me through the glass door that defends me from wind’s ravages. They invite me to join their happy dance. And I do, if only with a smile as I wave back.

More about Trees

More about Trees

I’ve been thinking about trees a lot lately. For all their beauty, grandeur, and life-sustaining qualities for us humans, the thing that most impresses me about these remarkable specimens is their sheer tenacity.

Nature confounds and amazes me. Plants can be so finicky, demanding just the right kind of soil, the right number of daylight hours, the right amount of water. But what’s right for one tree is wrong for another. Magnolias prefer acid soil while maples do just fine in alkaline. Willows like it wet; palms prefer dry. Some like it hot; others are happy in cooler climates.

But the one thing all trees need is roots, and roots need soil. Yet, I’ve seen trees thriving in the most inhospitable places, defying all the odds. Like this baby rhododendron that has somehow taken root on a boulder.

dscf5462.jpg

And look at this bristlecone. Maybe when it was a wee thing five thousand years ago, the rock it now stands on was rich, loamy soil, but that hasn’t been true for ages. Yet the tree keeps on. (Even though it doesn’t look it, it’s still alive).

oldest-bristlecone-public-domain-mark-wilson

Then there are these trees clinging to the side of a rock cliff, almost as if they’re suspended in mid-air. How do they do it? Really, they shouldn’t survive in these conditions. Nevertheless, they persist.

dscf3615

Life is complicated, and we humans are often plagued by complex physical and psychological conditions. Sometimes it’s not enough to say, “Just hang in there.” Still, when times are tough, it seems we could take a lesson from trees.

Trees

Trees

“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” —Joyce Kilmer, “Trees”

It may not the be one of the world’s great poems, but the sentiment rings true. Poems are just . . . well, poems. But trees! Trees are magnificent. The oldest known non-clonal living tree is a Great Basin bristlecone pine. At more tan 5,000 years old, it resides in California.

oldest-bristlecone-public-domain-mark-wilson

It may not look it, but this 5,000 year-old bristlecone is still living. (Public domain photo by Mark Wilson.)

As old as many bristlecones are, they’re not all that tall, ranging from 16 to 49 feet. The award for tallest tree goes to one of those gargantuan redwoods we grew up learning about. There’s a Coast Redwood, also in California, that’s just twenty feet shy of being 400 feet tall.

Then there’s the General Sherman giant sequoia in—you guessed it—California, the largest known living tree by volume, at more than 52,000 cubic feet. A wild fig tree located in Mpumalanga, South Africa has roots that go down 400 feet—that’s a deeper root system than the above-ground height of the General Sherman.

Honors for the tree with the largest diameter (38.1 feet) go to El Arbol del Tule, a cypress in Oaxaca, Mexico. Its circumference is a whopping 137+ feet. It would take about 25 adults standing in a circle, arms outstretched, fingertips touching, to reach around that tree. To put that in perspective, it would only take 18 of those same people to encircle our home, with its 24 x 26´ footprint.

About those clonal trees. If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of clonal and non-clonal trees, so here’s a lesson in a nutshell, so to speak. A non-clonal tree is an individual tree, just like you and I are individual people. A clonal tree, though, is a colony of genetically identical trees. The individual trees originate vegetatively from a single ancestor instead of sexually. So, when we talk about the age of a clonal colony, we’re really talking about the root system. Since the entire colony is part of a single root system, the whole is considered in determining age and weight. Pando, a colony of single Quaking Aspen located in Utah’s Fishlake National Forest, is at least 80,000 years old (by some estimates as much as 1,000,000 years old) and weighs an estimated 6,000 tons, making it both the world’s oldest known clonal tree and its heaviest known organism.

pando-public-domain

Pondo Quaking Aspen colony, Fishlake National Forest, Utah (Public domain photo, US Government)

These are the exceptions, of course, and there’s more to trees than their age or size or weight. Trees provide shelter and food. They cool us with their shade. When they’re downed, they provide heat in stoves and fireplaces. And let’s not forget that they absorb carbon dioxide and provide life-sustaining oxygen for us humans. Remember those 18 people surrounding my home? An acre of trees produces enough oxygen to let them breathe for an entire year.

See? I wasn’t exaggerating when I said trees are magnificent. Yes, poems are just words. Trees are the real poetry.

Here’s some tree poetry in photographs (all photos taken by the Gnome or the Crone).

fall-tree

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

dscf4257

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAdscf3057

 

dscf4048

img003_edited_2

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

dscf0366

(Note: The statistics referenced above came various crosschecked online sources. Occasionally, there’s some contradictory information out there, but the point remains the same.)