My Friends the Trees
Feb. 2, 2018
As an adult I live amongst my friends the trees by choice not by chance. As far as I can recall trees have always been my friends. While growing up on a small dairy farm in Northwestern Wisconsin I learned at an early age to appreciate the wide variety of trees in my life. The trees and me became closer friends with each passing year of my life. I cherish their constant stoic presence and take solace in their peaceful monumental status.
As a child I was able to retreat to the trees when life got too close. Not uncommon for young boys, it was easy to get in the way of my adults or get too close to my brothers and sister in ways that irritated them at least and made them angry at worst. Even when things were going well it was refreshing to sit in a tree to dream. With my back to the massive tree trunk I could watch the world go by, watch the clouds move across the sky above the singing birds sitting in the upper limbs among the fluttering leaves of my favorite yard trees.
In our farmyard there were several tall majestic cottonwood trees lining the driveway, their waxy leaves rustling confidently in the breeze. We had a thick windbreak of spruces growing side- by -side doublewide to the west of the cottonwoods, their full green skirts extending to the ground. In the front yard to the south there was a single large heavy limbed basswood tree that offered shade on hot humid summer days. To the east we had diverse shorter mostly un-kept apple trees and a lonely flowering crab that offered a couple glorious weeks of intense colorful blooms each spring far outclassing the blooms of the humble apple trees. There were a few Norway pines and of course some weed tree box elders. I recall a couple slim tight paper birch trees in the yard.
Within easy walking distance of a mile or so in all directions there were inviting farm woodlots. Beyond that in all directions there were large expanses of hardwood forest with natural trails and a few logging roads. I was drawn to, became familiar with, and cherished all the trees in their diverse spaces. I learned where the different trees, cherry, elm, ash, and beech liked to live and the habitat they made for the forest critters.
As a young kid I was challenged by adventure to climb the yard trees first against the better judgment of my mom. Soon I learned that if I shinnied up a tree I was out of my mom’s reach. She would have to negotiate in good times or threaten in bad times to get me down. Just like the birds I could hide in the safety of the limbs and leaves of my trees. A secure perch high in a tall heavy limbed tree is a perfect place for a young fellow to contemplate life, promote leisure and avoid farm work.
Trees were so interesting to me that I wanted to learn as much as I could about all of them. The white oak, red oak, and burr oak. The white spruce, black spruce and Norway spruce. My dad was a dyed in the wool farmer. His interest was in planting, growing and harvesting crops for his beloved dairy herd. My Dad enjoyed making and seeing large expansive weed free fields. Trees were pretty much stubborn unwanted and unnecessary competition. He and his brothers were in on the hard pioneer work of clearing the trees to make large farm fields, breaking the ground and picking the ever-present rocks to grow crops. If anything my dad seemed to marvel at how relentless the trees were in trying to retake agricultural land.
As a kid I was delighted to find a few older mentor type men who loved the trees and forest as much as I did. These people walked with me through the forest and showed me books that helped to identify each tree by the shape of its leaves, by the texture and color of its bark, and by the structure of its limbs. I learned to identify the properties of the wood of each tree and even the way each tree has a different smell. Eventually I could identify a tree from a distance just by its unique form and texture.
I jumped at the opportunity to walk through the woods with adult mentors who helped me see the differences in the trees and the environments where they thrived. Mine was a natural curiosity to learn about my friends and protectors the trees.
As an adult I continue this natural interest and relationship with the trees and their wood. Most days I work with wood to make a living. My wife and I build things of wood. We decorate wooden objects with hand drawn designs sculpted into the wood with sharp knives and a variety of carving tools. In our house we walk on wood floors, live between wood clad walls, sit and eat on wooden tables and chairs. We sleep in a sturdy wood structured bed and I saw and split wood to burn in our stoves to keep our house toasty warm in the cold months.
When I feel down from the happenings of modern life I head to the woods to be among my friends the trees. In the early spring after a long hard winter I stand and work among the trees noticing the promise and renewal of spring in their thickening buds. There is firewood to make and some springs maple sap to collect for maple syrup. I tend my many yard trees pruning out dead wood and improving their structural and artistic form. My apple trees require pruning. I take great joy in the form of a well-pruned fruit tree.
Briefly in the spring season before the leaves explode into thick green crowns there are delicate and colorful forest wild flowers to be amazed by at the foot of these majestic giant trunks. During the summer months there is little time to spend in the forest. Besides, during summer months the forest belongs to clouds insects, birds, baby animals and those who nurture them. At this time our yard trees are most appreciated for their form and their cool shade. They provide habitat for the many birds that nest in our yard and serenade us with their diverse joyous songs.
As the days grow short, the temperature drops and dense green colors give way to the bright fall colors of red, yellow and orange the forest is again inviting exploration. Spent leaves carpet the forest floor while acorns drop and once again there is visibility in the forest. Each species of tree is different in shape, form, and texture though most trees are void of leaves in the winter. Hunting seasons are on and there are plenty of excuses to be among the trees.
With first snow the forest freezes up but still remains warmer than the open country. The densely packed tree trunks slow the cold wind in the forest. Snow cover reveals the defining tracks of the forest animals. One is never alone in the woods even on a bitter cold winter day.