Walking back from putting out the trash this beautiful summer morning, I paused more than usual to take a look at my trees. I am getting much better at identifying them through their leaves (although -easy it sounds - I am still struggling a bit). But I wondered if I could identify them by their bark. While there are clear differences with, say, birch trees (that peel), or beech trees (that are smooth), often, bark can look so generic. Still, my tree-identification books assure me it can be done. So every now and then I try.
Today, I paid attention to the stately tulip poplar trees that line my driveway. This tree is native to this area and clearly content to lay down roots and generously populate my woods. That is to say, it is by far the most common tree on my property. When one fell on our house a year or so ago (such is the price we pay to live beneath the protective shade of these modest giants), the tree surgeons told us, in the pauses between the chomping of the chainsaw, that this wood is popular for cabinetry, paneling, siding. You can see why just by looking: when packed together in clusters, they shoot straight up for 100 feet before branching. That’s a lot of clean, fine boards.
But what I just noticed today among the specimens that have a bit more space around them, is that their bark shows signs of the tree limbs that grew, and broke off, as the tree aged. Stacked in a line climbing the sides of these trees are faint tracings of arcs, like boarded up gateways of long-ago fairy kingdoms. The mundane, almost bored, familiarity I had been feeling toward my abundance of my American tulip trees transformed into awe at the sight of this cascade of archways.
It reminded me that though we too shed bits of our former selves, they are never fully gone. We carry their tracings as markings upon our souls (and sometimes as scars upon our bodies!), recalling the adventure of our former dreams, or foolishness.
Such is the gift of pausing while Staying at Home. Getting to know (better) the trees and bushes in your yard or neighborhood could be rewarding past-time while you stay at home. Tree and leaf identification books can be found at almost any library. Friends can be an unexpected source of wisdom. So can the internet.
Seeing the variability of the same species can be awesome. When grown in clusters, as we noted, the tulip poplar grows tall and stately with no branches, for almost 100 feet. Yet when standing alone, often as a decorative specimen, its branches can flow down near to the very base. I knew nothing of this until I moved to this house. And even then it has been a slow self-education. (Who knew that the nectar from the flowers of the tulip poplar serve as a major source of honey in the Appalachian area?)
Okay, maybe it is just me. But instead of my trees feeling like strangers, like the neighbors down the block whose names I don’t know, the trees are now part of my home. That is a nice reward for staying at home.