Friday, January 09, 2015

Sketch the Trees and the Daffodils

Can you remember your first connection with a tree? I can.

Image taken from Google Earth

If I'm remembering the location of my first home correctly, the tree on the right and I had an intimate relationship. When I was about three or four, I would play in the yard by the tree. The tree and I would have conversations, along with several of my imaginary friends.

One day as I played, I needed to discipline the tree. I had a little switch in my hand and was going to hit it. I looked down and saw something that terrified me so much I could scarcely move. Finally I ran into the house and stood speechless in front of my mother. I was obviously scared and she grabbed me, saying "What is it?" I could only point. She shook me once, and I sputtered, "Snake!"

Sure enough, a snake had wound itself around the base of the tree, and had been there I don't know how long before I noticed it. My mother called my father, who came home from work and dispatched the reptile. I have not been a fan of snakes since.

I have always loved trees. I love how they reach toward the heavens, their branches lifting upwards, except for willows, which bow down. I love the green leaves and how they whisper to one another when the breeze moves through. I love the play of light as the sun breaks through the leaves, the different shapes that the limbs make, the deformities that sometimes occur to make a tree unusual and photogenic. There is little not to love about a tree.

During the last 27 years, as I've watched the tree line change about me, I've noticed that in some places I see less, because the trees have grown up, and in other places I see more, because the trees were cut or have fallen down.

We have lost a good many trees to ice and wind over the last three decades. We have experienced some wicked winters. I remember one ice storm back in the 1990s where I opened a window and listened to the limbs breaking. Pop. Crack. Snap. It was a terrifying yet hypnotizing sound.

When I was in high school, I thought about becoming a Forest Service ranger. I had enough interest in the subject to consider it, and was once chosen for an internship with the agency. However, my mother would not let me go for whatever reason, and after that I lost interest.

As a newspaper reporter in a nearby county that is largely National Forest, one of my great joys was writing about the Forest Service. Prior to President George Bush's administration, I had complete access to the agency located there, and I was on speaking terms with all the rangers. The head ranger took me on many trips into the wilderness, where he showed me long-lost villages, the homes of endangered bats and mussels, and other interesting things.

I wrote numerous stories about the National Forest and what was going on there. However, my access stopped in 2001, after the new administration made changes to the Forest Service. After that, the rangers were told not to speak to reporters. I could only get my information from the PR person in Roanoke, who knew nothing about what was going on, so the stories dwindled and then eventually stopped.

Trees speak in whispers. They soak in the sun, and grow strong with enough food and water. They are still, but when they make noise, we must pay attention.

We can learn much from trees.

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