Acknowledging Trees

It is still winter here.  Looking out the windows facing the backyard, I can see the nearby city buildings that would be obscured by leaves of the trees in my backyard.  My backyard is a fairly steep slope that ends up with a sharp drop-off to a small stream that always has some water flowing in it.

The backyard is a natural spot for trees.  In fact, the stream’s proximity to the Chesapeake’s bay causes nearly my entire property to be inside something called a resource protection area.   For the health of the stream and downstream Potomac River and the downstream bay, development of a 100 foot buffer around the stream is discouraged.  It is instead encouraged to have more trees to better control runoff from rain.

Eventually I will sell this place and given the property-value pressure the buyer will inevitably apply for a waiver of this rule in order to expand the foot print of the house or just tear this one down and replace it with something more comparable to nearby new homes.   800 usable square feet is a little on the low-side even around here.  But for now, I’m content with what I have and I admire my trees.

There were more trees when I first moved here.  Several along the creek edge fell over due to slow erosion that I can’t do much about.  It really disappointed me to see them fall.  I had two removed near the house because they were diseased and a hazard.  One of those was in the front yard and I haven’t replaced it.  The next door neighbors on either side of my house have very large mature trees and my yard is small so a small shade-tolerant species would be needed.  I haven’t planted anything in part because I pay much attention to the back yard.

As I look out from my kitchen window, there is an oak tree near the bottom of the slope or near the top of the stream drop off.  Every time I look out my window, I always look at this tree first.  I don’t even think about it until I realize I’m looking at it.   It was a volunteer tree that I found growing in a bad spot so I transplanted it to its current location.  At that time it was shorter than my height but I had hopes it would grow.   I lost track how many years ago that was.  The tree is still healthy and it is growing.  It is growing slowly because it is an oak and because it is in a shaded area.  It will be a long time before it will have its turn as part of the canopy.

I mention this tree because of the fact that it draws my attention every time I look back.  I have some affection to that tree.

When I first bought the house, the previous owners planted a red-maple sapling in the front yard as part of making the house more salable.   The house had no driveway and at the time street was dense with parked cars.  I wanted a driveway and the tree sat on the best place for the driveway.   Compared to what I was going to spend for the driveway, the cost of buying another tree of similar age would have been trivial.  But I was determined to dig it out and transplant it.   I failed.  The tree died.  That was over 10 years ago, but I still feel bad about that.  Less than a hundred dollars can pay for a similar tree that would have a protected root-ball to assure success.  I did not transplant to the new location because the new location was just right for this type of tree.  I transplanted it because I wanted to save this particular tree.  What I remember is that that attempt failed.

There is something about trees that attract my notice.  When growing up in a much more rural area, I very much enjoyed taking long hikes in the nearby woods.  In early adulthood, I spent a lot of time on a big college campus and then a first job in treeless Phoenix.  I realized that I wanted to have more opportunities to casually go out into the woods.   I visited Arlington Virginia and I immediately felt at home.  At that time, it described itself as an urban forest.  The best of both worlds.

When I walk among the trees, I pay attention to individual trees.  The forest is nothing but a gathering place for trees.  I wondered if there could be a wisdom of a tree, and whether there was some way to tap that wisdom.   In fact, I assume that trees are intelligent but act on a time scale too slow to make any sense in the duration of a walk.   If I did any wondering it was in the mechanism of that intelligence.  I can’t point to any proof of anything remotely like intelligence, but that doesn’t stop me from granting the tree an intelligence that is absolutely uninterested in my intelligence.

Thus I find a kind of affection for particular trees that I recognize.  The ones I planted as well as the ones I met and got to know.  I felt a sadness of loss for each of the trees that fell at the top of the drop-off to the stream at the back of my yard.  I remember them when they stood tall.

Their now decaying trunks that were once individuals are increasingly shaded by new trees a few few further up hill.

When I look out my back windows, this is what I see.

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