Metatalktail Hour: Trees of the Young August 3, 2019 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Good Saturday evening, MetaFilter! This week, unearthed wants to hear about your favorite childhood trees. (Which I assume means the trees of your childhood, and not trees in THEIR childhood, but, hey, either works!)

As always, this is a conversation starter, not limiter, so talk about whatever's up with you! We want to hear all your happy stuff!
posted by Eyebrows McGee to MetaFilter-Related at 6:56 AM (66 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

The house I grew up in (mostly) was one of the first in a subdivision developed in 1979-1981. The local soil is quite sandy with a thick clay cap. The developers trucked in some soil to put on top but that layer wasn't very deep/thick - good for grass, not amazing for trees.

Long story short: my mother loves trees, had way too many planted and made my life as the eldest-soon-to-be-primary-lawn-mower difficult. But but but the maple tree in the front yard was different. Most of the rest were conifers that would never grow very tall. This maple was stunted for the longest time. I remember being 9-10 and able to jump over the thing. I could jump but still, little kid jumping over a tree that would have been about 4 years old at the time. Then one summer (maybe another 4 years later) something amazing happened. In retrospect I figure the roots must have broken through the clay cap.

This stunted little maple tree shot up nearly to the height it is now (about 15m?) and shadows the house.

It was the little tree that couldn't.... until it could. I love that tree.
posted by mce at 7:18 AM on August 3 [10 favorites]


There’s a tree I call my “epiphany tree” at my local forest preserve/bird sanctuary. I go there to walk a loop around one of the lakes and then I sit and cool down in a gazebo near the water. Sitting there one morning almost exactly a year ago, I made a decision that had a big positive impact on my mental and emotional health. I was looking at a particular tree when this happened, and I even took a picture of it at the time because I knew it was an important moment for me. I still spend some time looking at that tree after my walks now, and looking at that epiphany tree photo is really comforting to me even when I’m not physically there.
posted by bookmammal at 7:46 AM on August 3 [6 favorites]


I AM THE SPIRIT WHO LIVES IN THE TREE. YOU ARE A FRIEND?

It's really now that I am beginning to learn trees as they deserve to be learned about. I loved them as a kid, and as a teenager, I loved the landscapes they evoked, but only now am I learning about leaf shapes and flowers and ranges.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:15 AM on August 3 [7 favorites]


My granny had a long garden divided into sections, that seemed endless when I was small. There was a cherry tree at the end that I sometimes climbed but more often sat underneath reading. This was my paternal granny who passed away in 2011, my maternal granny will be 99 in November and is my last grandparent standing! I’m going home in 2.5 weeks, can’t wait to see her.

I started EMDR therapy for anxiety related insomnia recently, and we start the actual desensitisation part on Tuesday, should be interesting!
posted by ellieBOA at 8:19 AM on August 3 [2 favorites]


We grew up in trees. The woods came up to the back and side of our house. We (me? a sibling?) accidentally broke a young birch in the front yard of our new house before the papers were even signed. We had a tall tree that none of us ever climbed all the way but each of us climbed far enough to frighten our mother. We had a tree house in old apple tree, the one I fell out of when a bee stung my back. We disappeared into hundreds of trees in the woods when we escaped for nights out of the house, slept in trees, even in winter. But my favorite tree, when it and I grew old enough, was the tree that gave us shade where we sat outside for our tea summer afternoons. I'm sure my mother's shade is in that shade right now and frightening the new owners when she laughs at something out of Austen or Dickens.
posted by pracowity at 8:25 AM on August 3 [6 favorites]


I don’t know much about non-flowering trees (if they’re even called that)—but there was a very old, very large tree in our backyard growing up. So tall that nearly thirty years ago you couldn’t have even attempted to climb it, there were no branches anywhere close to the ground. You couldn’t even have reached a branch from the roof of our house. I always look at that tree and remember that the streets and houses of our neighborhood have been placed on top of the growth that was there long before them, rather than thinking of the grass and trees and bushes as something added on top of the man-made areas.
posted by sallybrown at 9:24 AM on August 3 [3 favorites]


I was the kind of kid that liked to imagine some trees were haunted. I don't remember specific trees, but I do remember tromping through the woods in the winter and feeling spooky. My favorite fictional tree was the big spooky tree that the Berenstain Bears had to escape, or explore, or whatever they were doing there.

Actually, there are two specific (real) trees that come to mind as favorites. One was a big pear tree, just because it was beautiful and our woodchuck neighbor would always eat the pears and pack on weight throughout the year. That's the tree I remember seeing out the basement door in advance of an approaching storm, almost glowing with the last of the sunlight against the dark sky. The other was a big tall pine tree of some sort next to the house. That one's a favorite because of the night it fell down. It was snowing hard, and we heard this huge crack followed by a house-shaking boom. We went out back, and in the light from the house we could just make out the greenery on the ground, the trunk pointing away from us behind a bent and jagged stump. Impressive! I was sad to see the tree go (I'm sure I could work that into a cliche metaphor for growing up, or something), but it impressed upon me how intense and powerful nature could be. It kind of showed me who's boss, and I liked feeling a little humbled in that way. On the other hand, I worried about trees falling on my house for years after.

Yesterday I had a pretty bad reaction to a new medication. Today I've had a horrible headache, one of the worst in my life. The two may or may not be related. The headache got better after taking some painkillers and getting some caffeine, but man. One dose of something new can fuck you up. Talk about humbling. I feel like a fallen pine tree.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:38 AM on August 3 [5 favorites]


I grew up in Minneapolis in the early 80's, when the majority of city streets were lined with Elm trees. I remember the trees being so tall they created a canopy over the street...until Dutch Elm Disease. I was really little, but I have a strong memory of my Dad (and many of the other neighbors) running hoses out to the boulevard to "flood" the roots of the Elm Trees. I'm guessing it was a last ditch effort to save the trees after the fungicide injections and removal of damaged branches had failed. All of the trees wound up with orange spray painted "X"s and then came the chainsaws. 85% of elm trees in Minneapolis succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease between the plague years of the 70's-80's, and a small resurgence took out more of the remaining trees in the 90's.

So, the bad news is that the city lost the majority of its trees in a short amount of time. The good news is that the city learned their lesson and decided to replant the trees with a greater variety of species, so if there ever WAS a species-specific blight again it would wouldn't completely destroy the canopy.

The Elm that my Dad tried to save was eventually taken down, and my folks let my brother and I plant two trees to replace it. My brother's tree survived, mine didn't. I've decided not to read too much into that.
posted by Gray Duck at 9:42 AM on August 3 [8 favorites]


I recently took a nostalgia drive through the towns and neighborhoods where I grew up, checking out the houses I lived in and making sure I remembered how the streets connect. I was prepared for all the feelings of "that didn't used to be there" and "wow, that's still there".

I was utterly unprepared for and totally stunned by how big the trees had gotten since the last time I was there 20 years ago.

It had never occurred to me that the trees were not mature and full-height been I lived there. Driving down arterials that had once been pleasantly tree-lined was now like driving down roads carved through a forest, with the canopy fully covering 5 lanes.

The pine trees in my childhood neighborhood, which were storybook 30-foot cones in the 70's, had become 100-footers. The landscaping by the highways had become so dense in spots that it completely obscured retaining walls and other features that had once been plainly apparent.

It was really impressive and completely unexpected. I just never had cause to think much about the trees and their age when I lived there.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 9:56 AM on August 3 [8 favorites]


It's been kind of a tree summer. We drove up through the coastal redwoods in June and had our minds blown. Here's rednikki standing by a fallen redwood.

We've traveled a lot and have seen many natural marvels, but the giant redwoods have been the most awe-inspiring so far.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 10:04 AM on August 3 [5 favorites]


My favorite tree was my grandmother's magnolia, which was a perfect climbing tree and just amazing all around.

But I really distrust pecan trees.

See as a child I lived in a subdivision that was put in a diseased pecan orchard . The Pecan trees where large, it was to expensive to cut them down and there was one in every yard for the entire subdivion in perfect little rows. We'd occasionally get some pecans but not much.

ANYWAY, these trees had large branches that would just snap. Like clear weather no wind day, and huge branches would occasionally just crack then fall from the sky.

The neighborhood kids got real good at listening and running from trees. I know one started a fire once after breaking some powerlines, and another went through a neighbors roof. We had one through our own into the living-room during an icestorm and I witnessed a few crash to the ground over the years.

I have no idea why we lived there.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:30 AM on August 3 [5 favorites]


Birch trees for esthetics.
Oaks for climbing.

Sugar maples for beauty.
posted by clavdivs at 11:43 AM on August 3 [4 favorites]


We had a huge old maple tree in the backyard of the house I grew up in and I used to climb it a lot. It was a refuge for me, one of the few places I could go where no one could follow.

When you climb a tall tree a lot, it becomes comfortable and familiar, like walking through the rooms of a well-loved home. See, here is the front yard, the low trunk, where a scar marks the place where you were nine and you swung at the tree with an axe you found in the garage, just to see what it felt like to swing an axe at a tree, and you immediately regretted it.

Here is the porch, the entryway, a branch just low enough to jump to and scrabble your way up into the tree. Here's the foyer, the first bifurcation of the trunk, too narrow of a fork to sit in comfortably but a good spot to take a breather before moving on. Here is the place where you must climb carefully because a high voltage line, braided black and ominous, comes near your path as it stretches between the alley and the house. Here is the place where if it's spring, you can bounce on a particularly springy limb and send a flurry of helicopters spinning downward.

Here is the living room, a sturdy branch just welcoming enough to lie back on and contemplate the clouds through rustling leaves, the place you dreamed you might build a treehouse someday. Here is the spiral staircase, where supporting branches start to get thin and you need to sidle your way around the narrowing trunk to continue upwards.

Here is the place where your pulse quickens as you realize you're high enough to really feel the sway of the tree beneath you when the breeze picks up, high enough that a fall would mean serious injury.

And finally here is the tiny attic room, the place near the crown of the tree where the few remaining branches absolutely cannot bear even the weight of a child. It's not safe to stay here for long but for a little while, surrounded by the murmur of leaves, you're higher than the roof of your house, or the neighbor's houses, higher than anything else on your side of the block, barely tethered to the ground by this living tower, hanging on to the tips of its fingers, feeling like if you let go you might as easily fall upwards as down.

It's been nearly forty years, and I've never gone back to my childhood home, but I hope the old maple is still there. It's nice to think some kid might still be making their way up there from time to time, finding their own rooms and building their own memories.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 11:49 AM on August 3 [18 favorites]


The big linden behind my parents house that is failing these days. The scent of the blooms and the buzzing of the pollinators.

The huge apple tree behind my elementary school that we all climbed in and sat talking for recess.

The elm trees in the freshman quad of the college I grew up near to. All gone and replaced by zelkova which are now all gone as well.
posted by sciencegeek at 11:53 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


I grew up in a part of Chicago that seemed like every house was allotted one (1) tree - sometimes in the front yard, sometimes in the back yard. But we had two trees, a sugar maple in the back and a magnolia in the front.

I was obsessed with the idea of treehouses and climbing trees, though, and neither of those trees were any good for that - the lowest branches were maybe twenty feet off the ground. A friend down the block had this gnarly crabapple tree that we could at least climb a little bit, even though we'd get yelled at every single time we tried.

There was a forest preserve nearish to us, too - and like, objectively I know that the forest preserve is not all that wild or old or big, but as a kid it was the wildest, most natural and magical thing I could imagine. There were even hills nearby! It could be dark and scary and seemed to operate on fairy tale rules. For years, it was a popular dumping ground for no-longer-wanted pets, so the way everyone I knew in the neighborhood got a new cat was that they'd walk into the woods and whoever walked out with them, that was their new cat (we'd put up posters and check vet's offices, but it was rare that anyone would call). That's some familiar-level shit.

Some people would do this with stray dogs, too - my neighbor ended up with a pair of huskies this way, and another neighbor had some sort of hound mix? But the stray dogs were much scarier - oftentimes abandoned fighting or guard dogs, and we all learned the rules of dealing with an aggressive dog. Don't run, back away slowly, avoid eye contact, try to relax. Don't go into the woods alone. Fairy tale rules.

I wouldn't say the woods were my favorite trees of my childhood, but they're definitely the most memorable, and the best thing to talk about whenever urban fantasy comes up.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:25 PM on August 3 [10 favorites]


sugar maples for sugar, surely
posted by Countess Elena at 12:32 PM on August 3


Eucalyptus in Southern California. They are a specific variety, blue gum, native to southern Australia and Tasmania (they have long pointy sharply pungent leaves, not the little round ones seen in florist shops), were widely planted in the beginning of the 20th century. They are the smell of summer, along with the ornamental pepper trees and hot dusty soil. This is a great history from local news station KCET
This is a further take on the history of blue gum eucalyptus in California and why they've been eradicated in some regions.

Fun fact: Cabernet Sauvignon from the Coonawarra region of Southern Australia can have a notable eucalyptus /menthol note, but I've found that if a person has never smelled Australian eucalyptus it won't be as noticeable. Debate rages in the wine community on why the wine smells & tastes this way, and if it's a flaw, like the wine community does.
posted by twentyfeetof tacos at 12:33 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]


There was a large, spreading elm at my grandparents' place which we used as a home-run marker in backyard baseball. It had no branches close to the ground, so as a young kid I couldn't climb it. I think I must have been 11 or so when I looped a jumprope around the lowest branch and hoisted myself up. Getting down was another scenario. One day I got seriously stuck. That was how I learned the Secret Meow.

So, stuck in a tree, I began to make distressed-cat noises. I suppose I thought of myself as a cat stuck in a tree, or maybe I'd simply rather have had the help of a cat than a parent at that point. But I made one particular meow that brought the matriarch of the barn cat family running. She shot up the tree and found me.

My memory is that she helped me get down. Looking back on it now, I don't know how. Maybe she somehow showed me where to put my hands and feet. More likely, just having her there gave me the courage to try and climb down.

I had a couple of occasions to use this meow in the future, though somehow I understood that it was for emergencies only. It always brought this particular cat speeding to my aid. She was the mother of the three other barn cats, a scrappy little dilute calico who'd clearly been a house cat in her past. But someone had left her and her three kittens in a ditch by the roadside, and I'd found them while on a bike ride. My grandparents had no barn cats at the time, so they agreed to let the cats occupy the barn. My Dad took them to the vet in town to get them vaccinated and neutered (I remember feeling disappointed that there'd be no more kittens, but obviously as an adult I see the wisdom of it).

So this cat, whose name was Momcat, helped me down from a few more trees-- a copper beech and a tulip magnolia, that I recall. I hadn't thought of her in years, but I miss her. She was a wise old girl.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:13 PM on August 3 [21 favorites]


This makes me realize how much trees are part of my memories.

The pair of maples taller than even our 2 story farm house that provided cool shade.. the pear trees Dad built a swing between that had such sweet pears... the walnut trees, pride of the local squirrels... all the trees that became forts and castles and refuge..

There was an old orchard of twisted apple trees- who planted those seedlings? The animals of course loved the fruit that fell from those ancient beauties- and during the fall the cows would endlessly follow the horse around, encouraging her, as she was much taller, to reach up with her long neck and vigorously shake the branches, producing a magical windfall of sweet apples- which everyone would scramble to monch on- sometimes until they were all quite drunk on cider.

And in the category of trees in their childhood, a slight twig outside my cabin has slowly transformed into a delicate birch now proudly juust tall enough for the birds to perch in en route to the feeder.
posted by cabin fever at 1:52 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]


No specific tree; but trees in aggregate, any type or mix, make me happy. The only thing I miss (apart from a few people) about living on the east coast is the fall colors.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:41 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


As a very young child there were weeping willows near our apartment and spending time playing in the "rooms" their branches make is a sweet memory.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:49 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]


When I was around four years old my godfather asked me to tell him my favorite variety of apple. I said McIntosh. For my fifth birthday he gave me a McIntosh apple sapling. We planted it in the back yard, and as far as I know that tree still grows in the back yard of the house where I grew up.
posted by slkinsey at 3:20 PM on August 3 [6 favorites]


Trees! All of the trees on my little yard are gift sprouts. Two are crepe myrtle seedlings that my mom dug up and saved for me. They anchor the start and end of my large planting bed thats very very slowly filling up with perineals. Magically both myrtles have lavender blooms. I babied them in pots for several years until I could get my place. They are now about 12 to 15 feet high and glorious multi-forked specimens.

Four years ago I rescued two puny crepes that anchor a smaller bed. These guys are black leaved with magenta red flowers. They waited a couple of years for that bed to be established before going into their homes. They are proudly 4 feet tall.

And last year one of my bosses gave me a japenese maple sprout and a perineal hibiscus tree sproutling. They each have resided in nice decorative planters for a year ..... still waiting for a front step/porch to be installed so they don't get damaged during construction.

And I sprouted a wee magnolia that's now 7 feet tall. It's in the kitty kompound along with a camellia rooting that's made it to 3 feet high. These are just some of my baby rootings. Free plants! So good!

I've never had a place where I could plant all the things and it's now an obsession! I go out for one wee thing and am immersed for hours. And nobody criticizes my efforts or even gives advice. If something is not happy then I will find it a better place to relocate. Some things just don't make it. So there are always more plants to try. And it's hot dirty sweaty and so much fun to create little ever changing scenes. I am god in my little world. And the trees stand by and bear witness.
posted by mightshould at 3:25 PM on August 3 [4 favorites]


The only thing I miss (apart from a few people) about living on the east coast is the fall colors.

So much yes! There are several things I miss from my Minnesota→Montana move 19 years ago, but the fall colors are a surprisingly important one.
posted by traveler_ at 4:19 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


There was a low-forking dogwood in the front yard of the house where I lived until I was five. I climbed it. I remember the red berries and loving that tree and feeling that it loved me.

There was a big gnarly oak right next to the house where I lived until I was seventeen. There were honeybees in it. You could touch the tree almost without leaving the porch. One time the bees swarmed. Thinking of this I wish I could see it again.

There was an enormous magnolia, with giant branches almost to the ground, behind a dorm where I stayed for a three-week camp when I was thirteen. I could climb it as high as the third floor of the building. It was blooming at the time, and magnolia flowers have a very strong clean scent. It was lovely, and a refuge for me.
posted by amtho at 4:59 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]


Robert Goddard was an American rocket scientist - a very early one. He lived in Worcester Massachusetts during much of his youth and had a favourite cherry tree which he used to climb and sit in to read.

He was in this tree when he had the idea of how a rocket might work. This was an epiphany and he began experiment with using explosions to launch missiles upwards, much to the annoyance of his neighbours who had him banned from doing this on the family property.

Later in life the tuberculosis he contracted from his mother made him so sick that he was sent home to die. But walking around the family farm and the fresh air enabled him to survive.

Goddard was a meticulous diarist and mathematician, keeping careful records throughout his life. Other scientists understood his work but the public did not, and was attacked in newspaper editorials as a crank. A New York Times editorial in 1920 stated, "After the rocket quits our air and really starts on its longer journey, its flight would be neither accelerated nor maintained by the explosion of the charges it then might have left. To claim that it would be is to deny a fundamental law of dynamics, and only Dr. Einstein and his chosen dozen, so few and fit, are licensed to do that. Goddard seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools." Other scientist understood that a body in motion will travel within a vacuum but this was not something that most ordinary people understood. One set of scientists who understood his work were German. The V2 rockets that were sent across the channel, the 'buzz bombs' that targeted London were closely designed from his notes that had been stolen by a German spy rifling his desk and his mail in 1936.

Goddard never married and was almost certainly on the autism spectrum. His work was foundational to the Apollo Program. Forty-nine years after the New York Times printed the editorial that mocked him, the day after the Apollo 11 mission successfully traveled beyond the atmosphere, they printed a retraction.

His career took him to Princeton and to New Mexico so the family farm which he had inherited was rented out later in his life. One day the tenants wrote to tell him that the cherry tree had blown down. That day he wrote in his diary, "Cherry tree down. Have to carry on alone."

I often think of Goddard, who bonded with a tree and his desolate words that came from a deep and long lasting love. I think if I live to see life destroyed on earth, even more than I will mourn the end of my own species and the end of so many, many vital animal species, I will grieve for the trees. If you don't have people in your life, trees will do. Trees are, perhaps, more beautiful than anything else ever could be.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:16 PM on August 3 [24 favorites]


There is a live oak across the street from my work. It's still fairly young and compact. It has a pleasing, slightly asymmetrical shape, and it looks healthy and vigorous. It makes me happy every time I see it, which is often because I go to work five days a week.
posted by Tuba Toothpaste at 5:51 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]


I was a strange, witchy child. In the house I mostly grew up in (we moved when I was six) there was a holly tree and a hemlock beside our deck; I quickly figured out how to climb down off the side of said deck and under those trees was My Spot, where I could read or try to make ink out of brick and a paintbrush out of grass and bamboo, and things like that. My feet got tough enough that I could walk over holly leaves and be ok, and I could hide away and play the way I wanted with bits of trees and flowers and good things like that. I remember one year when it snowed, lying on the thick snow under the hemlock for a long time. No one bugged me there, under the trees.

My parents sold the house when they split up and the trees were taken down when the new owners re-landscaped. I don't have many particularly happy memories in that house, so I don't mourn them, exactly, but I think that was an important thing I had. I prefer to live near trees now; it was very hard when I was in North Philly, and it was all concrete desert. Where I am now, there's a huge tree in the courtyard that I can see from every window in my apartment; it's about half the reason I took this apartment. It's nice to watch the seasons change.
posted by kalimac at 7:13 PM on August 3 [5 favorites]


Hmm... I never had any particular attachment to any particular tree, as an adult or as a child. I wasn't good at climbing, and even back then was overly-concerned with safety to take those risks, hah.

I do like looking at them -- a magnolia in full bloom is an absolute show-stopper. And, every time I travel to the southern US, I'm reminded of the beauty of Spanish moss. I love it. Those perfect soft green garlands draping down are so romantic.

Chatwise, everything is pretty much holding steady with me. Not great, because I'm in a sort of crappy place, but eh - it's not getting worse, at least? Well, it kind of is, but just moderately. The divorce looks like it'll be like any other project and go over time and way over budget, which , ugh. It adds a constant background of stress which is so damn tiring.

My manfriend is off at Gen Con this weekend, which is a thing I didn't even know about until after I met him -- hes super into all that gaming stuff, and actually works managing the library there (which is on the field of the football stadium in Indianapolis, whaaaat?!). It's way over my head, but I'm glad he's off pursuing his own interests and having fun.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 7:59 PM on August 3 [7 favorites]


This is a great prompt, unearthed.

Many times in my childhood I drove with my parents from Alberta to the Okanagan, where my grandparents lived. All of these trips, the time spent on the beach, the feeling that the fries sold at that beach were the best fries ever, the card games, the lush golf courses hidden among small dry mountains, the cooking, the way fruit trees just hung out in backyards like it was no big deal.... it was all an oasis for me. If we drove out of town a bit, and up a small mountain, there was an agricultural research station, an immaculately kept green space with huge flower beds and oak trees, all of which bordered a large canyon crossed by an old fenced-off railway bridge. (Memail me if you've been there :) It was probably the most beautiful place I've ever been - I often fantasized about living there. It was actually an oasis. Fifty parking spaces, but no more than three cars were ever there. I've never had the heart to search for images, to know if it still exists and what's it like, because it means too much as a memory, even though it was in itself a place to briefly walk and picnic (and play bowls). Without the massive pines and oaks, it wouldn't have been its own world.

On the ten-hour drive toward my real summer vacation and my oases, I really looked forward to stopping in the mountains to walk in the BC rainforest. This is the air we should breathe all the time. I don't think any other forest like this, between here and there, is so accessible, just off the main highway one takes to go between provinces. It's called Giant Cedars, in Mount Revelstoke National Park, and here's some search images. And a forestry map of BC showing just how special cedars are.
posted by sylvanshine at 8:09 PM on August 3


great question.
pittsburgh exurban allegheny county, the cusp of the eighties.
the front yard apple tree, an uncultivated apple tree rising in three trunks from a knee-high split, offering many ascents and dropping inedible lumpy and sour golf-ball-sized apples to rot on the front lawn, as i recall, all summer. it was an easy climber, but without much thrill, sturdy branches too broad for a child's swinging grasp. a dear photo (i asked @deepforger to alter it in the style of modigliani) of my sibling, circa 7yo, & self, circa 5yo, standing together in that tree glorious in our seventies' kids' styles was evident on my father's desk at work, where we would not infrequently visit him (i first heard the word "fuck" used during a take-your-kid-to-work visit by my father, his feet propped on the corner of his desk next to that photo, as he spoke very forcefully on the phone; "shit," some years earlier, in sunday school). it was an ok place to crouch on a branch observing the yard, road and sidewalk unseen. throughout youth we could earn a penny for every ten apples collected & carried out back to the mulch pile. that pile, where leaves, grass clippings, garden waste accumulated, at the edge of the woods beyond the fence, was sometimes the chief armory for the always viscous, occasionally vicious, intraneighborhood rotten apple fights. but i digress.
my tree was a maple, situated at the edge of as-yet-undeveloped "woods" a low, springy branch's length from the corner post of the backyard fence - a mortised split-rail affair with wire fencing too fine for cats to pass, but wide enough for a svelte rabbit. the branch was too high for child me to reach w/o jumping, at the trunk, but easy enough to just walk onto from the end of the fence post. another branch ran parallel five feet higher, with a third, somewhat thinner, offset from the first in the manner of uneven bars, and a fourth, parallel to the third a like distance above it. the tree went higher than that, but that is pretty much where the magic took place, jumping, diving, hanging-by-knees & swingingly acrobatic, make-the-grandparents apoplectic, dynamic dismounts. it had other trees adjacent, with branches allowing some traffic. i imagine it's heyday was from 5-12 or so. at some point i grew too tall/heavy for supple branches & all the lighter-than air joy. my sibling once climbed it too high & had to be rescued by my father; the tree didn't go too high for me: i could descend from the canopy swinging from branch to branch just a little bit slower than terminal velocity. that's the tree of my golden ray-bradburyesque boyhood, on occasions when such a sentiment is evoked. it is also where i received my first anonymous threatening note: a card, left right on the corner post from which i would step onto the branch, on which a bloody knife and axe were drawn in black and red ink with the text: you will die. reader, i didn't. nothing ever came of it, except that i grew to regret not making sure to keep the note.
also, we bought root-ball xmas trees to plant along the sideyard.
posted by 20 year lurk at 8:19 PM on August 3 [2 favorites]


My folks gave me a common lilac sapling for my 6th (I think) birthday and I planted it myself, with my own little folding army shovel-and-pick. The spot I chose for it--a tiny patch between a house and a driveway--was not well protected, cars & trucks ran into the lilac constantly--so it didn't exactly thrive, but it grew into a rangy dusty shrub the way they do. I loved the hell out of it, and lilacs are still one of my favorite flowers. I find them no less lovely for being so common and hardy. Most of my life I've lived near lilacs, and even when they're not in bloom they make me smile every time I see one.

(Have lately been looking into getting a lilac tattoo, but so far I haven't found a design that will show up the way I want it to. Having a lot of fun researching Wiener Werkstätte flower motifs for inspiration, though!)
posted by miles per flower at 8:23 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


The Blue Spruce.

It lived in the front yard of the house where I spent my early childhood (we moved when I was five), and it was HUGE. The lowest branches swept down so that their tips almost touched the ground, and the space under the tree was my special naturally-occurring fort/chamber/hideaway/office. There was room for me and a friend or two under there, to settle in and discuss important matters of the day, and more than enough room for me alone to read or contemplate or tend to whatever crucial tasks four-year-olds are in charge of.

The tree has almost certainly been lost to property development bullshit by now, which I suppose does spare me the eventual disappointment of returning to my tree chamber only to find that I’m about five times too large to enter.

But someday, if I achieve the impossible millennial dream of home ownership, I will plant a blue spruce in my yard.
posted by some_kind_of_toaster at 8:53 PM on August 3


street view tells me the frontyard apple and mulberry trees are gone, replaced by what looks to be a comely maple and nothing, respectively; the crabapples appear to be there still.
satellite view suggests the climbing maple may still be there at the corner of the back fence, among the little fringe of trees -- that used to be the near edge of a quite-a-bit deeper woods -- still growing along a creek/floodwater channel between the developments.
the line of xmas trees is mature and impressive.
posted by 20 year lurk at 9:14 PM on August 3


When I was about 6, we moved to a new neighborhood. I had a crush on a very old Mimosa tree that grew down the street. I would stand in the street and stare at it, admiring its lacy leaves and spiky intensely pink flowers. One day a girl about my age came out of the house and asked if I'd like to climb up in the tree with her. I wasn't supposed to talk to strangers but I really wanted to climb up in that tree.

I spent a lot of time in that tree that summer, lying on a large forked horizontal branch, watching the leaves tremble and the armada of cumulus sail overhead. Cicadas would be making their crackly sound and the scent of the flowers was faint but sweet. Later there were bean pods, that when dried, contained lovely deep brown ovals. I collected hundreds of the beautiful seeds and kept them in a treasures box.

The girl who lived there didn't like to sit up in the tree as much as I did but told me I could sit there by myself when she wasn't around. By the end of the summer, the girl's mother had enough of the strange kid sitting up her tree and told me to go home and not come back. Every school day for the next 11 years, I walked or biked past that tree and always told it that it was beautiful and that I missed sitting in its branches.

I haven't been back to that neighborhood or seen that tree for over forty years, but thinking about it still evokes the distillation of drowsy summer and lost love.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:46 PM on August 3 [7 favorites]


When I lived in the woods, I used to think of this Robert Frost poem a lot:

She had no saying dark enough
For the dark pine that kept
Forever trying the window-latch Of the room where they slept.

The tireless but ineffectual hands
That with every futile pass
Made the great tree seem as a little bird
Before the mystery of glass!

It never had been inside the room,
And only one of the two
Was afraid in an oft-repeated dream
Of what the tree might do.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:50 PM on August 3 [5 favorites]


Young -- trees were trees. There they were. Willow trees were fun. But, trees were trees.

My fathers business tanked. We sold the house we owned and moved to a rent house, $125 a month. Huge, heavy time in our family -- a beautiful cousin murdered, her jealous Chicago cop detective husband suspected, my younger brother came along, a complete surprise, a late surprise, and I'd been baby of the family (and you may not know it but that's a good thing to be, until it's gone), and then the business tanked and we moved into this dump.

I met with Devils Rancher this afternoon, I brought up that massive Anxiety/​depression/​ADHD/​autism/​bipolar & other neurodivergences thread which I've been wanting to post in but won't until reading it all and then coming back to it and it's half again as large as it had been, but to honor the other posters there it just doesn't seem right to just shove my blather in without reading the whole thread. It's a spectacular thread, I feel I've gotten to know about six people that I never really knew, because people in that thread are writing true and writing long and it's just great.

ANYWAYS, Devils Rancher and I spoke of the thread, and I told him that I branched off my life course at this time -- everything was heavy, sadness and despair and poverty, and I had been an A or B student always but lost the thread when we moved and never got back, I was in 4th grade and I diverged, began to rub my fingers on my pants and snap my fingers as I walked, I got nervous, I got scared, everything was tilted wrong and I was getting lost.

But. That rent house, which was a retreat, which was a dump, was not a dump for me. Trees. It was on five acres and the house was surrounded by trees, most of the five acres was planted in soy beans every year but there was a tree line on one side of that field, absolutely gorgeous maples, one after the next, all the way to the back of the field, which wasn't a tree line but rather a wild area with scrub trees and whatever kind of weeds and tall items, it was in here that I saw the first cardinal I'd ever seen, the cardinal the state bird of Illinois but only in the fourth grade did I finally see one, and many other cool birds also. Robins, everywhere -- I live in Texas now and I sure miss robins, yeah, we've got robins here but in Illinois they are everywhere. There were crows (these are large, tough birds), and blackbirds, and red-wing blackbirds and, more rarely, yellow-wing blackbirds, both of these in swampy areas -- if there were cat-tails, then you've a good chance of seeing these beauties.

But -- those aren't trees.

That rent house had pine, it had elm, it was surrounded by these huge honkin' trees that I don't know the name of and it's too damn late to call my sister and find out from her, but these trees were next to the driveway, and ran down and around the house on the other side also. One of them in the driveway, my older brother wrapped a chain around and pulled the motor of his Ford Galaxy ragtop and then put it back in and that chain is still wrapped around that huge branch, it's totally wrapped now by the bark of the tree and it's at least four foot higher than it was when I was a kid -- that house is long gone but many of the trees remain, the village of Lombard IL bought up those properties and in time turned it all into a really nice park.

My sister stayed on living there, after my parents moved to another house but way before it was turned into a park, and she raised two children there, and my nephew and I have walked that property remembering where the house was, and the back porch, and the pear tree, and talking with him I told him about this one area behind the house but not yet into the soy beans that had this really long, soft, really comfortable grass, and I made love with my girlfriend who became first my wife and then my ex-wife and then my friend until her death but all of that was *way* in the future as we lay in each others arms, in real time, and nothing else mattered except that time, and her, and loving her, and telling her, and her loving me, and telling me -- if I could return to any time and place in my life, it would be in those short years, the absolute safety in her love, the absolute safety in her embrace, in fields, in cars, in looking at one another, in whatever bed we could find privacy in, find time in, her breast my church.

OK, so that grass isn't a tree, either, but best I can tell you we never made love in a tree, though we damn sure would have had we any privacy and time in one. And I can tell you for a fact that she was an adventurous lover, and love up a tree -- hell, I can see her blue eyes flashing, that dazzling smile...

But I was telling you about that grass. Turns out that my nephew made love with at least one girl there -- I don't remember the specifics exactly except that he'd rolled around happily there also -- and we smiled at one another, my nephew and I, we laughed together, our eyes happy, at ease in each others company, family, standing there on holy ground.

Out front of that house was the one tree I climbed consistently, from the day we moved into that house until I took off, bound for Florida, at 19 -- it was an elm, it had a low branch that grew with me, and the whole time I lived there I could easy swing up and over, then stand on it and climb, and climb some more, and then just a bit more. It wasn't the best tree for climbing but it wasn't the worst, either; I could easy get pretty high but then the show stopped. Still, it was fun. It didn't really have a perch up high, which would have been nice, so it wasn't a tree you'd climb and then read in, or consider messing around with your future ex-wife in either. But I'd say it was a pretty friendly tree. I only fell once that I recall, and that just from that low branch that I used to swing up into it.

The line of maples that ran next to the field, they were gorgeous in the autumn. (They were gorgeous all year but they sure put on a show in autumn. One of my literary heroines -- Ruth, from The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton -- Ruth said that they get all colored up and beautiful in a dress rehearsal for their death. Which happens fast -- one day they're there, and gorgeous, maybe turning a bit brown, next day they're on the ground and it's cold cold cold, the wind a slicing razor blade, if your coat is missing a button you know exactly which one it is, and you'll be unhappy about it.

Yet another aside: It took years living in Texas to see that there are as many colors as there are up in yankeeland. Just that they are in a much narrower spectrum, from this shade of green-brown to that shade of green-brown. But once you train your eye, Texas autumn is very pretty also. It's more subtle; yankeeland autumn is like getting smacked hard in the head with a six pound sledge hammer, Texas autumn maybe a bonk from an 18 ounce hammer. And maybe you'll say that "Hey, it's not good enough! I need all those bright colors to feed my soul." If ever you've lived South and known that as you are fishing in the surf in a t-shirt and shorts that your brother is knocking his hands together to get enough feeling into them to put jumper cables from one car to another, if you're sane you'll be wanting to bail out.

Um, not that I really totally know what sane is...

Regardless that, I could never, ever live in yankeeland again. No. way.

The best tree on the property of that rent house? That pear tree. Bartlett pears. Yellow. Huge. Sweet. The best texture of any pear I've had since. I'm not like you, I don't know how to cook pies, but as I've thought about that tree and those pears and what I might write about it I came to this -- you'd want to cook the crust first somehow, and then remove the top of the crust, and then just gently bake that pie just long enough to melt ice cream on top of it. And don't put a lot of sugary glop inside the crust with the chunks of pear, in fact maybe just take a few pears and smoosh them up and use that for filler. Because those pears don't need to be cooked, not really, just warmed, perhaps heated but only ust barely -- again, think melting ice cream. Why am I so red-neck on this? Because those pears are the perfect consistency to eat right off the tree, and I'm thinking that if you heated them you'd end up with mush. Tasty mush, but mush. When what you could have is The Best Goddamn Pie You Ever AteTM.

Point of all of this blather, or one point of it anyways, is that though our family was in absolute crisis, that though I was headed off the rails (I told Devils Rancher that it was like train changing from one track to another, off onto/into a different, uncharted direction), though The Story ran that the house was A Dump, for me, having all of that land, and all of those trees, and all of those outbuildings (which I haven't even gone off on, but should have -- I'll just say that while I didn't climb a bunch of trees, you could *easy* climb onto the garage, and from the garage take you a long head start and a running leap onto The Cinder Block Outbuilding, a real thrill, though the *bigger* thrill was getting a longer, faster head start and leaping back onto the garage -- whoa!) --while it was heavy, it had it's good parts. My mother took a job -- *real rare* in 1964 -- so I was one of the original "latch-key" kids; time alone before school, lunch hour home alone, a *lot* of time alone after school.

~~~~~

NOT my childhood. Though it's been pointed out to me many times that I'm childish, so Hey! maybe I can sneak it in under that.

Texas trees.

I'm no authority, and I'm not going to write about but two flavors.

The first: Live oak trees. Live oak trees are the friendliest trees I've ever come across. We're in Texas, so trees don't grow as tall, and they grow a wider canopy, and that is what live oaks do, they shoot out with these long, arching, careening branches, so often running low to the ground, and if you're lucky you'll have one of these monsters in your yard, or a lot of them. They just beg to be climbed. To be leaned upon. To be leaned into. Could you spend an afternoon up in one of these guys? Oh, yeah -- get a book, climb on up, ease back, relax into your new, strong, supporting, friendly friend. Even if the heat is brutal -- August in Texas, anyone? -- under the canopy of these trees, and/or in the canopy of these trees, it's ever so much cooler, and even the slightest wind and you've got the rustling leaves going on, maybe a creak or two but you're not frightened, nor should you be. You are with your friend.

Number two: Pecan trees. They're everywhere in Austin, I mean really, we're overrun with these things. Here's something you might not know -- they are "self-pruning." WTF does that mean? It means that for any reason, or none at all, a limb or a branch of just a huge honkin' piece of the tree comes crashing down. Good god. Go walking after a storm -- or even after a windy afternoon -- and there's big hunks of limbs lying about, branches for sure. (Sometimes enough will come down that you'll put them all in one area, and feel wealthy in a way, all of these branches in your back yard -- a branch bank, you might say.) You'd think that we all eat pecans all the time and we do but really, you could damn near subsist off of the things. Coffee with a pecan bent to it is nice, though I am generally against any perversion of coffee, unless it's chicory, and fresh, too.

I wrote that I was only going to write about two Texas trees but pretend I didn't write that -- pines. In East Texas. (Note the capital E in East Texas, same as West Texas has a capital W. The S in South Texas doesn't carry as much weight. North Texas? Come on. Who gives a shit about north Texas. That's where Dallas is. Lubbock. Amarillo. Fuck....) But East Texas. Yes. It's got a great feel to it. You've got to get about 45 minutes or an hour northeast of Houston to begin to get the feel of it, and the look of it. Big pines. Oaks, yes, but really, it's pines. I pulled off of I-59 once, drove maybe a mile or two east, toward Louisiana, stopped, turned the key. Deep silences. It's something. Here's this huge honkin' owl, big as a Buick almost, no more sound than a prayer, it's cruising along and then ZAM !!! it falls out of the sky like a rock and it's the end of the line for a varmint of whatever description. I doubt that the animal even has time to be scared, it's in those claws and dead as Dillinger in the blink of an eye. Have you ever watched one of those vids of an owl coming in for dinner? Whoa... So East Texas. Yes, it's behind the times. Trump country, for real. One of my best friends lives there, and I could easily afford a nice place there, but the problem with living in East Texas is that then you are a person who lives in East Texas, and you'll find out that many of those cliché characters -- well, they aren't just a cliché. It's for real. Still, the beauty there is something else -- when I visit my friend I get out at night, on a hammock under the stars but surrounded by pine and oak and the wind soughing gently through, maybe listening to a book but maybe not, probably not, at least not the whole time out there on that hammock. Somehow I've become a person that mosquitoes are *not* interested in -- which is rather a marvel to me, no idea wtf this is all about, but I sure do like it -- so I'm not going to be eaten alive, nor do I need to douse myself with poisons to enjoy the stars, plus I have an LED flashlight bright enough to shine onto the dang moon, so if I get spooked by some sound or other I can see just exactly what it is behind me and to my left, and not once has it been a grizzly bear, or a mountain lion, or a crazed East Texas person who somehow knows I'm from Austin and he's coming to set me straight...

There's one other tree that I want to write about but I've already broken my word once, to do so again just would Not Be Right, Nor Proper. Which generally doesn't stop me but tonight it is going to. Between that great Anxiety/​depression/​ADHD/​autism/​bipolar & other neurodivergences thread and this one, I feel I know some people better, and I like all of the ones I've sortof come to know better. Great people here. Great threads. Great fun.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:58 PM on August 3 [8 favorites]


sugar maples for sugar, surely

Syrup, surelier?
posted by Segundus at 5:18 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Walking through a grove of the Humboldt redwoods when I was 7 or 8 was a singular event that set me on a path of environmentalism & general love of the outdoors. It’s pretty damn humbling to be amidst those creatures & it made me indescribably angry that people would cut them down.

I was probably predisposed to being an environmentalist, hippie & political radical by virtue of growing up in the middle of the hippie & anti-war movement in late-60’s-early 70’s San Francisco, but those trees sealed the deal.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:34 AM on August 4 [4 favorites]


I do have a tree, apparently. My godparents lived down the block from my elementary school, so sometimes my sister and I, and our two god-brothers, would go to their house after school to play. One day at school they gave us all little sprouts of trees to take home and plant. We went to the god-parents' house that day and planted them all in their backyard.

About thirty years later I'm very estranged from all that part of my life. I've forgotten all about the tree planting thing along with a million other details of my young childhood. My dad dies, and I go home, and have occasion to run into my god-parents again. My godfather tells me that actually my plant was the only one that made it and grew into a healthy tree, and that his family always just calls it "[fleacircus]'s tree".
posted by fleacircus at 8:12 AM on August 4


I was a strange, witchy child.

Ha, I say this about myself but I usually use the word "spooky" same thing applies. Hiding out in the outdoors because indoors has problems. My sister and I used to climb trees all the time where we grew up. And then one day, she climbed... really high, maybe too high, and fell. We were sort of in the far backyard (in a space that is now a conservation area) and I piggybacked her home. She was bleeding from her chin and, unbeknownst to us, had cracked a lot of her teeth. Later she developed epilepsy and, rightly or wrongly, pins it on that tree fall.

That tree is now even huger and it's in the conservation land behind my mom's house, a house we've decided to sell, though are doing a piss poor job at getting motivated on that. My sister and I walk through that woods now, as a 50 and nearly-50 year old. She took a bunch of photos of that tree the last time we were there, she's planning to get a big back tattoo of that tree, the tree that (maybe) changed her.

I have a bunch of different personal trees, from the giant elm we had in the front yard of my mom's house (until we took it down and made chairs and a "couch" to the quaking aspen when I bought my first house, the first tree I felt I could look at and say "This is mine" (but who can really own a tree?). I made a tree post in 2007 that I still kinda like.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 8:59 AM on August 4 [5 favorites]


When I was five we moved out of an old brownstone apartment building that stood shoulder to shoulder with other big old apartment buildings in the downtown core because they wanted to knock down the building and put in a parking lot. We moved to a neighbourhood where there was a lane between every big brownstone apartment building and in front of all of them was grass. One block to the west was the school where I started kindergarten. Across the street to the east was the sports pavilion which comprised two skating rinks and the changing area for the outdoor pool. Directly across the street were the tennis courts. If you walked up past the tennis courts there was a busy street used as a commuter artery and if you crossed that you were in The Park.

That Park is ground zero to my heart. It was designed by Olmstead. Some of the trees were already there when he trucked in fill to make it into low rolling hills. They used pink stone to build shallow wells for the trees that stood where they wanted the hills. Many of the trees I met stood in these shallow dry, wells which were armpit height on me and fun to scramble in and out of when we moved there and thigh height on me when we moved away. Tall green shade trees were everywhere. The park had winding paths, some of them made of brick, a serpentine pond with an island and three waterfalls one of which you could go underneath, a football field, a cromlech to commemorate confederation with one stone for each province or territory, a playground, a pool for model boats, two decommissioned cannons, a bridge for playing pooh sticks, giant chequer boards, a little brick building that housed the bathrooms and out of which's windows you could jump if you wanted to climb out the window instead of going to the door, the children's library, the adult's library that had a slate tile roof and used to drop tiles into the shrubbery that surrounded it, and the conservatory which had one room devoted to a gold fish pool, one room that was designated the jungle room and had banana trees, two or three large decorative display rooms with their glass roofs two stories or more high and several long narrow rooms that smelt strongly of the geraniums that they started their as seed and later put into the many flower beds that the park was filled with.

My mother was probably happier with the move than I was or my siblings. It meant that she could send us out to play as soon as we got noisy enough in the morning to drive her out of bed, and it meant that she could go back to university full time, because after school I could cross that one street alone (supposedly at the light) and go up to the children's library and wait for her there to pick me up on the way home from class. The children's librarians thoroughly approved of this arrangement and told me not to reshelve books after I read them just in case I put them in the wrong place so when my mother would come to pick me up just before the library closed at six the round table in the picture book section would be pile high with books, dozens and dozens of them.

On days when she wasn't at university we were supposed to be home by six pm for dinner and we were supposed to be come home without dog dirt caked into the soles of our shoes. That's all she demanded. Sometimes, often, we succeeded but not always. My poor mother. No one should have to clean dog dirt out of anyone else's shoes every day, all summer long.

I honestly cannot think of a better place for a kid to grow up - okay, there was deadly traffic and more than a thin sprinkling of perverts that wanted to french kiss unattended little girls in the park and everyone walked their dog in the park but in those days nobody picked up after their dog. I was attacked on a few occasions by other kids, most notably the time that tar was involved or the time that switches cut from a thorny rose bush were involved, but what's life without a spice of danger to teach you prudence and good judgement and make you awake and aware?

More than anything else that park was the trees. So many, many tall, silent grey trunks going up to a canopy of delirious green coolness. Nothing, nothing could be more beautiful than those trees. Nothing could be more comforting. If it came to deciding if I would save those trees or all the history of Europe with its cathedrals and ruins and castles and foundations and paintings and museums I would be sorely, sorely tempted to save the trees. I wouldn't because they are not two thousand years old and in two thousand years they could be replaced several times over, but if I were ever forced to a choice, oh it would be hard. And if it ever came to a choice between me or those trees - I would RUN to my death.

Trees, when you cry, let them hold them. Trees are infinitely comforting. Trees are like the archetypal parent, the immanence that makes us believe in god. They stand taller than us and watch and are utterly reassuring. Trees provide like a parent that loves us, never demanding anything but bringing coolness and shade and calm and solace and... I probably shouldn't say us. This is probably about me and precious few other people, but oh God, I love those trees, more than anything, anything I can think of.

Some of them had little grey metal plaques on them giving their name in Latin and in English. Adult perspective: Goddamn. They should have had the names in French too. This was Montreal. Damn the people that lived there long before I did and forgot. Quercus Alba. Salix Babylonica. How many miles to Babylon? Four score and ten. Can I get there by candlelight? Yes and back again. I knew those names as early as I learned the names Red Maple and Witch Elm. There were chestnuts and oaks, every kind of tall shade tree that they had planted in the eighteen hundreds. I read books under those trees, I lay on the grass under those trees, I ran and jumped and staggered and grubbed in the dirt (rocks were considered potatoes), I brought snacks from the corner store - (Crossing the street to get there was deadly. Our school crossing guard, Mr. Green was killed at the intersection we crossed to get to that corner store.) The snacks were always brought back to eat in that park. I hardly ever climbed those trees. They were all too tall with no limbs low enough to reach except for the two weeping willows on the peninnsula. One stood in the center of the peninnsula, the other by the side of the water. Groups of adults used to perch in those trees to have their pictures taken. They were immense. One morning we came to the park and found that the willow that stood by the water had fallen. It lay half submerged, leaves straining up the the surface that had one hung down to touch the water, a great drooping canopy of gold broken.

That was the first tragedy. At first the sound of chainsaws and the smell of new cut hard wood, the scattering of shavings where the tree had stood was fascinating, then it became a grief. No, not another tree. Someone explained that they only cut trees that were sick and could infect other trees and my anger abated but I never trust anyone could could cut a tree like that. Mercy killing? Are you sure? Are you completely completely sure you have to do this? When a tree is gone the journey to the death of the universe has taken another irrevocable step. They never cut down the other weeping willow. They did cut some of the branches to try to stop it from toppling but that was a desperate and futile attempt. It grew more and more uneven and scarred. Finally despite everything they could do, it lay down, but even then it died a natural death, a few years of senescence like someone in a bed at a nursing home, alive but never rising again, seeing day and night cycle, eating, drinking and knowing when it rained. When it finally died they left it there and the enormous gnarled trunk is where people still come to take group photographs. It's still there more than fifty years after I met it.

All the tallest trees are gone. The elms were giants. Four story buildings were two stories lower than their canopies. Some of the other trees cracked and were cut, or lost their leaves, turned into arthritic skeletons and were cut. Every time I went back - less and less often as the years went on, another tree, more trees were gone and my memory faded so they stopped being individuals. Not this tree and this tree and this tree are gone, but, eventually I could only say there must have been three or five trees in this stretch. Now there are only two and these two are sick trees, They have only a few branches now. They will probably be gone before I come back.

Of course they planted more trees. There are new trees. Young trees, trunks now barely three or four feet in diameter. They will never grow to the size of the trees that I first met in the Park when I was only five years old and the elms were my guardians. I will never be that small in proportion to a tree again, and I cannot live long enough to see those trees pass a hundred years old. The park is still thick with trees and they are the most precious things in world but they are other people's trees, not mine and I won't learn their trunks and their bark, the shape of their shade at noon as compared to at ten in the morning or at four.

I have a fear that some day when I am really, really old, or sooner if I go insane, I will try to go home. I will try to get into one of the apartments that we lived in, try to find the round table in the picture book section of the children's library, try to find my classroom in that school. And I will horrify and distress people if I do. But the children's library has been torn down and a new library build there, and all elementary schools lock their doors to strange adults and you need to be buzzed in to get into the apartment buildings. Even the Children's hospital where the benches in Emerg used to be a place of safety for me has been closed. So it should be okay. I won't upset anyone in those places. But the park is still there. I don't think they could erase the park. So I might go back to the park and I might seek there for my trees. I might even think I recognize trees that are there now the way someone with dementia will mistake their granddaughter for their sister, or their niece for their mother. You are someone I love and you are where someone I love should be.

I live in another province now, another city. If I get dementia or go crazy I will never be able to find my way back. My feet would remember the layout and the route home, the paths, the street crossings, the dips in the sidewalk where there are driveways. If I lived in the same city I would find my way back. So it is a good thing, I feel safer not living in Montreal anymore. I cannot run as a wounded animal trying to make it home and make it. My park belongs to other people. I am not the same person now. It is not my home. I cannot have a home now, not a place that really feels like it belongs to me and where I feel like I belong.

Someone who had one of those life-after-death experiences once told me about it, how in their delirium they were welcomed in heaven by family members and then suddenly sent back because it was not their time to die. This affected my spirituality because I tried to find a similar context for myself and my own concept of heaven, and at that time I could not imagine meeting my family in heaven - if they were there I did not want to go, I would have chosen oblivion over after life, I would have considered eternal hell without them as perhaps less impossible to face. But after I thought about it and struggled with the idea, eventually I came to terms with the idea of heaven. It would not be hell if those who greeted me were the characters from the fiction stories I wrote, and if would be heaven if it were peopled by those kindly parental trees. Yes, that's a concept of heaven that makes sense, a world where I am reunited with the trees.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:35 AM on August 4 [8 favorites]


Trees! I stopped dead in my tracks while walking the other day, not getting right away why my legs wouldn't carry me forward anymore, then realizing I was surrounded by a scent, and that was why I'd paused. I looked up and saw a mimosa tree in full bloom, tons of ephemeral sweet pink firework bursts all over that thing. It made my evening.
posted by limeonaire at 11:39 AM on August 4 [3 favorites]


...not trees in THEIR childhood, but, hey, either works!)

Lol...sooo..this restaurant in my neighborhood has a bunch of potted plants outside and they just got...a baby pineapple! I didn't even know they could grow outside of Hawaii. It's become a bit of a neighborhood celebrity and it's been fun watching it grow this summer. The pineapple itself hasn't gotten much bigger at all (it's smaller than a softball! It's so cute!), but the leafy top part has doubled or more in size. It looks like it's going through a rebellious teenage phase and growing a big mohawk. (So cute!)
posted by sexyrobot at 12:05 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]


Man, I feel like I can't talk about one tree in my childhood yard without talking about every tree in our yard.

Along the front property line, there were five cottonwood trees, right in a straight line, so huge, probably planted the year the house was built. One of them came down in a wind storm and smashed through the brick wall of the dining room while we were on a trip to Germany and, after that, the gap in the line was like a missing tooth.

There were two buckeye trees, both with low-enough limbs that made them easy for climbing, but one (the best one) was split in two so it was really easy to scramble up. I read many books while lounging in that tree.

There was a spindly yew tree that never amounted to much, but smelled nice.

There was a birch tree with fascinating, peely bark. In the Song of Hiawatha, Hiawatha asks a birch tree for its bark ("Lay aside your cloak, O Birch-tree! / Lay aside your white-skin wrapper") and makes a canoe, and I always had a notion that one day the birch tree would be big enough to make birch-bark canoe, but it was not to be.

We had a couple of sumac trees eternally beset by tent caterpillars (which are repulsive).

In the back there were two giant maples, one with a hollow in it that seemed to contain infinite mysteries.

There was a locust, unpleasant because its twigs were spiny so you couldn't go barefoot in that part of the yard, but it also dropped interesting seed pods.

There was a mulberry tree, prolific in mid-summer, and two apple trees that produced apples juuuuust this side of too tart to eat, which somehow each had at least one worm.

Before my dad mowed, he would go through the yard and mark every single sapling with a long stick so that it had a chance to grow.

We had a lot of good trees.
posted by BrashTech at 12:33 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


In kindergarten my older sister used to tell me that she liked to climb the huge backyard tree high enough to reach the power/phone lines running through it, and then walk along them like a balance beam. I totally believed her of course. So much so that I actually remembered watching her do it, for years, before I realized I'd made up the memory.

My current backyard has an enormous maple that my kids spend all day every day swinging/climbing/treehouse-ing on and playing in the shade of. I hope they have good memories of that tree.
posted by gerstle at 12:39 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Some of my first childhood memories come from Torrejon, Spain, a small town outside of Madrid. My father was in the USAF, a member of the Strategic Air Command helping protect the world from the evil commies in the USSR and East Germany. We lived off-base, in a community of Americans that did not qualify for on base housing. The central gathering point for the kids of the neighborhood was The Tree.

I think it was an oak tree. It was large and it’s defining characteristic, and the reason it was so popular with the kids, was a wealth of very low hanging, very thick and sturdy branches. This was a tree designed for climbing, and climb we did. This tree seemed to have a safe occupancy level of about a dozen kids. I’m not sure the fire marshall would have approved, but I can’t remember anybody ever falling out and being seriously injured. I also don’t remember us allowing girls in the tree. This was back in the early 70′s and the whole equal rights thing had not reached us yet I guess :) I’m not a heights guy today , and I wasn’t back them either. Although I did climb the tree, I had to if I wanted to maintain my standing among the other 6-8 year boys, I think I stayed on the lower branches most of the time though.

This particular tree had another feature too. Some of lower branches extended over the fence and into the swamp. The swamp was off limits. It was not part of the military facility, and we were warned time and time again by our parents to stay out of the swamp. It was land owned by a crazy Spanish farmer who shot at American kids on his property. That was the story anyway. It was a dangerous place, inhabited by snakes and gypsies* and all sorts of dangerous things. Of course, crazy guys with guns and mysterious people are just the sort of things bored 7 year old boys are looking for. If they had told us the swamp was infested with girls we probably would have stayed away. As it was, we spent a lot of time in the swamp. We got in by climbing The Tree and jumping down on the other side of the fence. I don’t remember seeing any snakes or any other people at all. I do have a vague memory of a shotgun warning, although I really don’t know if it actually happened, or it was the product of our over active imaginations. Probably the latter.

The big kids hung out at The Big Tree (our naming conventions lacked pizzazz). The Big Tree was off base somewhere, not accessible by foot or pedal power. The big kids used their mopeds to get there. The big kids had built a fort in the tree. As I remember it, it wasn’t much of a fort. It was a few planks spread between branches and a floor made out of scrap plywood. Ever once in a while, the big kids would let us come out to the The Big Tree with them. They gave us rides on their mopeds. This being the early 70′s helmets were for sissies. I remember the big tree being fairly remote. It wasn’t a good climbing tree at all. You really couldn’t do anything there except climb up to the fort, which of course was off limits to us little kids. We were just happy to be there. The big kids would climb up into the fort, have a smoke, and then we would go back home. It seemed so exciting at the time.

As I was writing this, the appeal of The Big Tree finally hit me. This was the early 70′s – smoking was cool. The big kids could smoke cigarettes on base all they wanted. I think the school even had a smoking area. I bet those weren’t Marlboros they were smoking at The Big Tree. Funny how that connection hit me 40 years later.

(originally published on my blog in 2013)

* I assume our parents were referring to the Roma people. But it might have been a generic term for dangerous stranger too. I don't remember any interaction with Roma people , good or bad. It was the early 70s, my parents said lots of things back then that make me cringe today.
posted by COD at 1:50 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]


Oh! Also, in trees of my childhood and trees in their childhood - I'm remembering one Earth day where every kid in my class was given a sapling to plant - courtesy of some big corp, I think. It was school-wide, not sure if it was just the district or everyone in the Chicago public school system or random. The idea was that if every kid planted one tree, we'd be able to offset a huge amount of traffic smog. But, as this was a low-income school in Pullman, a good number of the kids didn't have a place to plant their tree - I did have a yard, but I had an unwilling parent who was not enthusiastic about unexpectedly making space in her yard for a random tree. This would have probably been around 1992?

I always think of that example when we're talking about moving the burden of saving the environment from systems and corporations onto individuals. It's something that probably feels pretty good and I enjoyed the idea of it as a kid, but it probably would have been better for the trees to be planted in our names in our neighborhoods so we could go visit them (or at least in the nearby forest preserves).
posted by dinty_moore at 2:29 PM on August 4


Larches are conifers that change colour in the fall and drop their needles. I and my sibs are lucky we grew up hiking trails like Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass in the Banff-Lake Louise area. We felt that the larches were our friends. I spent a lot of time stroking larches' soft needles. It always felt like a miracle that they didn't stab me like pine or spruce.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:42 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Why is maxwelton sharing an unremarkable screen-capture of a google street view?

Well, because I can tell you precisely how old the two conifers in the center are--they were planted by me, in 1978 or so. I "stole" them (as 4" volunteer seedlings) from the woods at the end of the road-- said woods seemed enormous and unending and probably were "only" 40 acres or so. (That house was brand-spanking new, then.) The street view says 2011, and the more recent satellite image shows them still standing, even taller, so they're 42 or 43 years old.

(The best trees for us kids were wind-fallen trees in the woods, though. The uprooted roots-and-earth made a wall, and the pit left behind begged to be made into a cool bunker-like fort with some scrap lumber.)

It's one of the most astonishing things about getting old, witnessing the growth of trees. Even in the nine years I've been in this house, the five-foot-tall volunteer firs are now close to 30 feet tall. I was exploring my old neighborhood via google maps, the one where I lived just before the house above (my parents moved every two years), and was astonished to discover the cow field behind that street is now an honest-to-gods forest. So cool.
posted by maxwelton at 6:15 PM on August 4 [4 favorites]


My dad cut willow starts from down by the Mississippi River, and we planted a row of them across our back fence line. They grew so fast, the water table was so bigh there, we were just a couple of levees away from the river. We climbed and climbed those trees, and howled in the wind up in them. The cicadas would rizz a rizz a rizz, in the summer. I still occasionally dream about those willows and the back property line.

On the subject of trees, we bought a house in Sugarhouse a part of Salt Lake City, in 1984. My old landlady had let me plant some small fruit trees in the garden I had, up on The Avenues. She let me move them to my new place. So I had my friend's orange Ford pickup and I put the trees in the back and drove over to my new house. I backed it in and jumped down, grabbed my shovel and began to dig holes for the two bing cherries, and an apricot. I had met my new neighbor to the east, he was 98, and had a small orchard in his back yard, which he raked in super slow motion seemingly all the time. I would look out there and he would be standing with his rake, wearing overalls, his checked shirt, and small straw Panama hat, big loose gloves, like a statue in among his trees. Later on he would be somewhere else raking.

On this day of the planting I looked up and he was standing at the fence with his red haired friend, another man about his age, from up the street. I was in a hurry, and I was finished in about 15 minutes, those two were still there, just staring. Finally I walked over and I asked them what was up. They said, "Well, we just never seen nothing like this." And I asked, "Like what?" They said they had just never seen a woman drive up in a truck and dig holes and plant trees, work like that. They were so quaint, like a British farming comedy, the red haired man looked Scottish.

I got to know Bill Wale my neighbor. He was a railroader, who worked on big train engines. In fact the engine he tended used to be displayed down in Pioneer Park. He was a remarkably sweet man who lived alone there for the last three years of his life, and he kept me good company. He was particularly sweet to my youngest child, and spoke in his quavering, ancient voice about the types of candy he had in his dish for her. His children were elderly, his son preceeded him in death. They would come visit, they were in their seventies and eighties. The fruit trees grew up, and my daughters climbed them to eat cherries, and I ate apricots in my night gown, for breakfast straight from the tree in Julys.

The neighborhood, The Inglewood Subdivision, was the second oldest subdivided land in Salt Lake City. It was first inhabited by railroaders, my lot had been vacant for many years before my house was built in1912. I found all kinds of marbles, doll parts, and the horseshoe pits and stakes from where the neighborhood gathered long ago. I still have my marbles. At the time I moved in there were still a few original residents like Bill Wale.
posted by Oyéah at 7:43 PM on August 4 [4 favorites]


Ah trees! I am surrounded by trees. Maine has more trees per square mile than any other U.S. state, including Alaska. When you drive up I-95, especially past Augusta, all you see are trees, trees, and more trees. You want trees, we've got 'em!

When I was a Freshman in high school, in the late 1970's, my folks bought a house in my mother's home town, in Dexter, Maine. It's about 40 miles from Bangor. Home of Dexter Shoes. My Mom, one of my brothers, and I moved to that house in the middle of the school year, so Mom could be close to her mother, my Grammie, who was getting up there in age. Dad job-hunted on the East coast, remaining in the Chicago suburbs until he later found a job in Northern Massachusetts. But we still kept the house in Dexter for years afterward, making it our summer home and weekend getaway place. It was an old Cape Cod, built in the early 1800's. Hand-hewn beams in the ceilings, wide floor planks, and a slight tilt. Dad put jacks in the basement, and turned them slightly each year, to try and level the house, but it had other ideas. I could drop a little bouncy ball on my bedroom floor, and it would roll downward to the other side. My cat loved it, and would happily follow and chase the rubber ball, until I picked it up and did it again.

This house had a well, and it also had a natural spring running through the property. Dad could switch the water supply from the well to the spring, where there was a small pump house, painted yellow to match the house. It was down a path in the woods, next to the stream.

Growing along the stream were many old cedar trees. Cedar trees love wet feet, so it's a natural place to find them hanging out, their roots greedily sucking up water, their flat lacy needles providing a sun-dappled canopy. Cool and refreshing, like a natural rainforest, very different than the pines out back, planted neatly in rows, like giant corn stalks, by the forestry department, years ago. I could walk under those pines, the forest floor carpeted with needles, and feel the hush. Sometimes I'd find some lady slippers, not touching them, because they are a protected species. It felt like finding a fairy ring.

I loved to read, and since Mom was busy, and my brother was always hanging out with his high school friends, I'd often take a book down to the stream. There was one old cedar tree that had grown out horizontally, then upward, right over the water. A perfect seat for 13-year-old me. I'd climb onto the trunk, it's soft bark cushioning my legs, and get comfortable, with my feet dangling over the water. Then I'd open my latest book, maybe a cheesy Harlequin romance, or an Anne McCaffrey book about dragons, and sit there for hours, reading to the sound of the babbling brook passing underneath. It was my magical place, and no one bothered me there. There were no chores to do, no obnoxious brothers, no anxious mothers, no distant fathers: only me and my tree, hiding from the world. I miss that tree.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:35 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


When I was a kid, we had a weeping birch tree whose branches trailed all the way to the ground. It made a perfect-sized playhouse for my sister and me.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:46 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


Thanks for doing this post eyebrows - really enjoying reading about everyone's trees.

bookmammal I love the idea of having a personal epiphany tree!

I've just seen the new tree in my life get plastered in snow and an update, more snow, we had 300mm today which is quite unusual, it also snowed on the beach all across Southland.
posted by unearthed at 4:25 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


My childhood home had a massive Irish Strawberry tree on one side. (Just googled this to be sure and found the fruits are edible! We never knew!) And a large birch tree on the other. A Jacaranda in front and in the back yard, a lemon, pear, and two kinds of apple tree, all of them large well-established trees, great for climbing. Up against the back fence some she-oaks (casuarinas) and other native Australian trees my father had grown from seeds he collected himself. In the nature-strip a lemon-scented gum (a kind of Eucalyptus) the last one standing last time I went that way, none of the others survived the house being sold and redeveloped.
posted by Coaticass at 4:45 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Just found a better photo of our tree stump furniture.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 6:43 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


I grew up in a house on a quarter-acre lot, and the biggest thing we had was an avocado tree (well, after my parents took down a towering palm tree, but that was before I was very old). When my brother and I were a bit older, they had a tree fort built around it, because it wasn't big or branchy enough to support something in its branches alone. It was a pretty big space, and it spanned the little drainage ditch that ran through our back yard, which was also an urban wildlife trail, a path for raccoons and opossums, who also seemed to enjoy our tree fort.

Then we moved to a huge (to me, a suburban kid) acre lot, with big, beautiful oaks. And it came with two tree houses! One was a rickety little platform, but the other was a series of platforms and a decent ladder. It was a great space, with branches big enough to climb on further.

I'm not sure if it was because of that tree, or growing up camping in the coastal foothills, or just having the biggest trees around be those coastal oaks, but since leaving California, I realize I have a deep love for oaks. Our current yard isn't big enough for one, so I won't even try to plant one of those notoriously hard to establish trees, out of respect for what it should become, with, as dancestoblue wrote, long, arching, careening branches, so often running low to the ground.

I realize I also love pines, particularly in the summer, in the mountains. There's something about a warm pine forest smell that makes me happy for summer, probably because of summers spent in the Sierras with my family, then backpacking.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:26 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]


I have two trees in my memory, although neither of them is 'my' tree.

My maternal grandparents lived in upstate New York, a couple of miles away from the Hurley Mountain Inn which was made famous by a scene in the movie "Tootsie". The back yard of their house sloped rather dramatically away from the house down to a small creek (which made sledding a priority when we visited them every Christmas), but there was a flat area immediately outside the back door, maybe 30' across, which was home to a ~50' conifer of some kind. That estimate comes from the fact that, from the back of the house, 1/2 the basement level and both living levels were visible, and that tree towered over the high-peaked roof. That is the only tree I remember climbing regularly. In summertime, when family interaction became too much (and it often did), I'd tuck my shirt in, stick a book inside my shirt, monkey my way up to be even with the second floor windows, settle into a notch there with the breeze blowing and the tree gently swaying, and read until my head cleared. If my parents had ever figured out how high I could climb that tree, they would have killed me.

The other tree was at the house of a friend of my parents. He and his family lived in a huge house in SE DC, built in 1939, 4 stories of living space, including a library in the attic accessed by a hidden staircase. In their backyard was an ancient weeping willow that completely dragged on the ground and, when mom and dad would go to visit, all of us kids (me, three sisters, and the family friend's two kids) would hunt fireflies in the foliage of that weeping willow.
posted by hanov3r at 12:45 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


50 years ago I grew up admiring Bald Cypress trees. This was the type of tree that my great-grandfather had felled, and then set up a sawmill for, in order to build a beach house near the Gulf of Mexico. There was a long, broad porch made of stout planks of clear cypress. The house was also made of cedar and heart-pine. Even to this day, it has survived the elements including strong hurricanes.

So, when I bought my house 25 years ago I planted a Bald Cypress out in the front yard. It has grown well, and filters the morning sun with feathery leaves. In the fall it turns rust colored. That was the first tree I planted at this house. There have been 10 more since. They include pines, a mimosa, a sago palm, burr oaks, a lemon, a catalpa, and an overcup oak. I am now hard-pressed to find space for more trees, especially because the house had fine live oaks and water oaks when we moved in.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 2:47 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]


The Pollok Beech, aka the Wishing Tree in Pollok Park, Glasgow. It always seemed so old and gnarled to this kid, but it couldn't have been much more than 200 years old at the time.

Some wee shites set fire to it a couple of years ago and it now only lives on as cuttings.
posted by scruss at 5:10 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Of the three trees, only one is still standing and while not necessarily the favorite, is the one most climbed. It's a dogwood in my grandparent's back yard. Not to tall, but had branches you could climb out on and get to the roof of the garden shed. When I saw that James Bond movie where he used his shoelaces to climb back up a rope... that was the tree where I learned to use shoelaces to climb a rope. Also the tree that I'd trow a grappling hook (made out of rebar) and rope climb. It also had the perfect almost horizontal branch at just the right height to jump up and grab and swing like a monkey from. Or pull yourself up and over into the tree from. For some reason one day I was pretending to be a bunny rabbit and had a pair of socks on my hands (go figure). I jumped up and swung on that branch and immediately slipped and fell flat on my back... Knocked the wind out of me good. I couldn't breathe for 40 seconds or so and was terrified as I ran around until I passed out. Almost but not quite the scariest OMG I've gone and done it moment of my childhood.

One of the other trees was in the front yard and was sturdier and went higher and had good places to just sit and chill. At grandparents I spent a bunch of time in those two trees

The third was at my father's parent's home and was a big tall pine tree at the end of the driveway. It went pretty high but the branches were too dense and it got your hands all sticky.

Since we lived in a relatively wooded area there are tons of other higher trees, tree houses all around, or just a little triangle between three trees 100 feet up and 2x4s nailed in for the ladder. So too many to count really.

But that dogwood. Still there. Even the kids' kids are too big to climb it anymore. It only holds birdhouses. It would crush me if someone chopped it down.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:49 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


There was a beautiful huge tree right in the edge of the street where I grew up. Where the trunk met the ground made it look exactly like a butt. I loved the Butt Tree and said hi to it every day.
posted by emjaybee at 9:21 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I loved the Butt Tree and said hi to it every day.

Makes me think of the penis trees that crop up in medieval manuscripts.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:48 PM on August 12


There was a tree on my gradeschool playground. It was a black oak, or rather it was two, three, or maybe even four black oaks grown together into one super trunk. It was a monster. Maybe 10 feet in diameter?

There were several games that involved this tree. A perennial favorite was circumnavigating the tree while only walking on the roots (mainly challenging in terms of shoes traction, rather than having to jump or what have you. We occasionally played catch by throwing the ball between two of the main trunks (dangerous because balls got easily stuck, and some kid got clocked in the head by a chunk of asphalt that another kid throw to dislodge the stuck ball.

The game that was the absolute most fun was discovered about half-way through gradeschool, and it involved the biggest root on it. This particular root was particularly long, particularly wide, and had a particularly gentle curve all the way from where it entered the ground to where it melded with the trunk. The game was to take a running start at this root, run the two or three strides it took to get to the trunk, and then to run vertically up the trunk as far as the friction of our madly pumping feet could continue defying gravity. The dismount involved using your last stride to push your self outward and to the side to land on a conveniently root-free patch adjacent to the root.

We felt like ninjas using ancient mutant turtle magic to scale walls! We felt like sonic the gosh dang hedgehog! It's difficult to trust childhood estimations since everything looks enormous when you're small, but I swear on my super NES that the fastest, lightest kids would get 8-9 feet off of the ground. Incredible fun.

After game was discovered, every single recess for weeks saw half of the class queued up at the starting line, waiting for their turn to do mad stunts. Martial-arts style kicks executed while returning to earth were the height of fashion.

There was an even better game, but it was on the playground for the 4th and 5th graders (mega tree existed on the K-3rd grade playground). And it wasn't just one tree, it was a whole copse. There were a few pines and oaks scattered in there, but the main foliage was overground lilac bushes. There was an elaborate network of paths running between, around, and occasionally through these bushes, and endless games of tag were played there. The mega tree described above never had a name, but this tiny 30-50 foot patch was referred to as "Bare Woods," on account of there being almost no ground cover excepting leaves underneath the bushes.

All Autumn long, we had joyously stressful tag sessions in there, recess after recess after recess. You never knew if the next fork or turn was going to place you head-to-head with the be-Ited classmate. The shade of Bare Woods lessened the heat during the last gasps of summer weather, and the taller tree's canopy blocked the blazing sun from blinding your class room adapted eyes.

Much of Bare Wood's appeal fell with the leaves. The lack of foliage meant you weren't hidden from your pursuers, which lessened the survivalist appeal, and when cold rains mixed with the fallen leaves, they were slippery enough to slide you into all sorts of pointy branches. Most of the boys played touch football instead.

But the Spring. Glorious spring. The buds growing day by day. The incredible verve of their hue. And did I mention that Bare Woods was mostly overgrown lilac bushes? The smell. The purple. But no really, that fragrance -- it was like meeting an incredibly beautiful friend of your parents and feeling drawn to them like a magnet even before you had a clue what desire was. It was like going to an art museum for the first time. It was like finishing homework and your mom revealing that she had adopted puppies -- surprise!

Bare Woods was a fragment of the primordial Garden, a mote of Paradise. A dream and a refuge.

All the lilac bushes were clear cut from Bare Woods the year after I graduated from that school. I was gutted.
posted by wires at 3:31 PM on August 15 [4 favorites]


wires, your story brought back a memory of one school I attended where the playground was surrounded on two sides by deep pine woods. We weren't allowed to play in the trees, but I remember at certain times of the year you'd have to pick big globs of fragrant pitch off the swings before you could sit in them.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:21 PM on August 16 [1 favorite]


Here's that awesome tree that I described above. The root I described extends towards the camera, but the photo has the trunk too dark to see it.

That asphalt patch behind it? If you look to the right of that asphalt patch, that's where Bare Woods stood. Looks to be about five trees that once were part of it -- the three trees on the farthest right (before you get to the open grassy area) were the outer-most border. The lilacs that grew under them got the most sun and were the most breathtaking of them all.
posted by wires at 2:01 PM on August 16


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