Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Festival of Trees #62: Lessons I Learned From a Tree

It's easy to fall in love with a tree in the springtime- they are loud with the first colors of the year- pale pink, dusty yellow, chartreuse. By July, most trees are cloaked in deep green and perhaps wallow in the shade of other trees in the forests and glades, or blend harmoniously into the hum of summer meadows and thickets. In creating the Festival of the Trees edition this month I learned that even from these places, they still have the capacity to shock us, woo us, and draw us close. I learned that it's hard not to refer to trees as agents of actions and feelings in their own right, and I think many who have been wooed to tell a tree story this month would agree with me. Perhaps it's because when we are up close to the trees, we have an immense opportunity to learn from them, if we care to listen.

People who have learned lessons from trees in the past may seek new opportunities from new trees. Fran at Mumbling Mountain went on a tree-finding mission back in April and would like to share it with us. Lucy at Loose and Leafy felt it necessary to approach what appeared to be a large shadowy blob and find out and name exactly what tree was in there. Many others like them across the continent are hunting for trees- extraordinarily large ones. Once the tree hunters find a special tree, they measure it and nominate it for The Big Tree Project at American Forests, and if the tree scores enough points on their rating system, it becomes a Champion Tree. A register of all the Champion Trees to date are available for perusal in the online registry.

The Big Tree Project is a rare opportunity for us to make trees champions for a change. Often it is the trees that make us champions. Every year in late July new international trees climbing champions are chosen by the International Society of Arborculture. Contestants compete in a series of tree-climbing races (see live video of the races) that test for speed, strength and agility.  This year's championships were held in Australia and the winners are Scott Forrest of New Zealand and Chrissy Spence of New Zealand.

This month NPR featured a different set of trees tied to Olympic champions- the four oak trees that were given to Jessee Owens, who won four gold medals for running at the 1936 Olympics in Germany. They have been featured in a book by Jim Constandt and a movie called Jesse Owens returns to Berlin.

One can't talk about climbing trees and picking champions without being reminded of childhood. Over at Rock Paper Lizard, there is an amusing recollection of childhood tree climbing at "The Crescent", a well-known patch of trees in Vancouver's Shaunessy area. It makes me think of the summer camp kids at the farm I have been teaching off and on this month, who have chosen the best apple tree for climbing and will grudgingly wait their turn to monkey around in it all through snack time.

What is it about climbing trees that brings out the inner child in us? It brings out this and more, as artist and climber Todd Smith found out. He climbed a tree every day for one year to study this perspective. What he found he recorded in a daily journal where he wrote and collected tree samples. He created a blog, Daily Climb, to share the highlights, and this month, after recounting those highlights day by day, his story came to a close.

There are other ways to learn lessons from trees than to seek them out like the tree hunters, the tree champions, the children and Todd Smith. Sometimes it almost seems as though the trees seek us out. This message in clear in both Sheila's account of a young sycamore tree growing in the middle of Hope Creek on her blog Green Place, and in the Virtual Notes of Dorothy Lang about a tree on her bike route. In both instances, the author glimpsed the tree from afar and because they meditated on it for a moment, were rewarded with simple, powerful lessons. Diana J. Wynne of a place in the world blog writes about this too, as a character in her story Road Trip is drawn to the trees.

Researchers at Harvard's Arnold Arboretum are wracked with curiosity about trees at a microscopic level. I had the chance to tour their lab about a month ago, and was fascinated that even at microscopic range, the trees are calling to us! Beautiful images and strange behavior abound even inside the cells of trees. Around the same time of my visit, the lab came out with a big discovery about how pollen grains of a tree may actually compete in order to fertilize the eggs cell at the base of every tree flower.

There is so much to learn from every tree that scientists at Oxford University are taking stock of large numbers of trees for just this purpose. Now we move from extreme micro of the Arnold Arboretum labs to extreme macro in Oxford's project. It was released this month that they have taken on the task of extensively mapping each one of the world's religious forests. These forests are home to some of the most rare and longest-lived organisms on the planet. And I won't mention long-lived organisms without giving a nod to the "Dinosaur Forest" post at Rebecca in the Woods. This one speaks to me on all my nerd-wavelengths!

Old trees are something to be cherished in Texas, too, as an entire team of firefighters have dedicated themselves to keeping a local icon from becoming thirsty this summer. At Fidalgo Island Crossings, Dave ponders just how much one particularly old tree has given to people over its lifespan.

In contrast to those stories, at Mole blog, a poem marks both the youth and the end of a tree's life through a sudden crack. Practice Makes Perfect blog highlights the striking beauty of a fractured tree as well. In Arlene Wanetick's story posted at Art 4Play blog, a broken tree is a potent catalyst for learning, as thousands of city-dwellers, children, and camp counselors take pause to adjust their daily lives around the loss of electricity.

I thought I would save a few sweet rewards for the end of Edition #62.  At European Trees, we are treated to a geographic tour of Western Europe's most popular specimens for wine and spirit-making. Seattle's Chinese Garden offers us a beautiful fantasy of a peach tree forest in a popular Chinese parable. Looking at the ripe, round fruit, I am reminded of the young Asian pear tree I purchased two days ago. Although not the first tree I have cared for and tended, it is the first tree I have ever had. I am tempted to say it is the first tree I have ever owned, but then, how could something so full of life belong only to me and not be enjoyed by everyone? After I loaded it out of my car at home, I immediately grabbed my neighbours to show them the tree and share some fruit. I'll be sharing the tree with you too, in a later post. . .

I'd like to thank all of the contributors to Edition #62 for your submissions which made this month's Festival of the Trees an awesome one! I also want to thank the Festival coordinators, especially Dave Bonta and Jade Leone Blackwater, for the opportunity and for their suggestions. You'll find next month's edition at Slugyard blog.


  1. Wow - so much to read. Thank you for hosting Kate, this looks awesome! Good luck with the pear tree, I can't wait to see how it grows.

  2. Wonderful reading here and in the links. Thanks, Kate!

  3. Kate, I submitted an entry for this...was it not included or am I missing something? Please let me know, thanks.

  4. Just discovered that there were five lovely submissions waiting in my inbox that I had overlooked! Problem has now been sorted and the submissions added- apologies for the late additions. Thanks for speaking up, Arlene!

  5. Thanks for going the extra mile Kate. :)

  6. Thanks for hosting! (And glad mine got added - originally I assumed it had been omitted since it wasn't TECHNICALLY about trees.)

  7. What a lovely idea and post. I take a lot of photos of trees and their wildlife when o ut walking our dog. We are lucky to have so many woodland nearby.


If there's one thing better than visiting gardens, it's talking about them. . .thanks for joining the conversation!