I wish I could remember when it became a joke, one of those inside jokes eliciting curious looks when someone’s age was questioned and the answer was always “Let’s cut ’em open and count the rings”.
No one cares about counting the rings on a small tree, a sapling. It’s really those mind boggling old growth trees with pins indicating the year Columbus hit these shores. Thought provoking there are living things that old. Or were. Until someone cut it open and counted the rings.
No ‘oooohs’ or ‘aaahhhs’ over a stand of Georgia Pacific paper fodder. Its the gnarly ancient beeches and twisted, tortured oaks. Now they get the second looks, the questions. They carry the history of their corner of the world, they carry the weight. If they could talk. It frightens me to hear what they might say of us. How many old friends gone?
Winters in Ohio are uniformly grey, cold, often miserable. There are occasional respites from dreariness, and they stand out like a tart at a debutante’s ball. Startling in its contrast, a tease for what may come next. Or then again, maybe not.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really mind the coming of winter. Autumn is my favorite season. It gets away with a blazing black velvet color palette, like an aging starlet’s last hurrah, throwing it in our faces, “yeah I’m on my way out, but just look at me now!” Standing on the doorway of the big sleep, displaying like there may never be an awakening. This almost exhausting display of the artistry, majesty and power is the big build up for the minimalism to come.
Winter’s piercing wind scours the last vestiges of autumn’s finery and carries it away. What’s left are pen and ink renderings of life in dormancy. The architectural quality of those living beings left to fend for themselves against the ravaging winds and ice and indifference of winter’s grasp is revealed. How beautiful, how stark. Seen at night against the back drop of a cloud scudded sky back lit by reflected urban light, they’re a mantilla of branches. I feel especially blessed when these nightscapes are punctuated by the visitation of a great horned owl, taking advantage of the architectural lace holding up the sky. All so very visible, so very beautiful. And when the wind really picks up its intensity, to hear their voices as branches are slapped around by invisible hands. Spooky. Nothing like it to stand in the yard in the dark and hear that otherworldly moaning of wood, alive.
Favorite of my winter time trees is the Sycamore, lots of them in our area. Happiest when near water, it is not unusual to see them lining stream beds, perched in mid sip. As they age, their bark takes on a life of its own. Sometimes gray and flaky, sometimes white, sometimes underpinned with slate blue and beige. Sometimes all of the above. In winter, to see these elder statesmen stripped of their crown of extraordinarily large leaves is amazing; grey sky or blue. Maybe because of its serious need for water, or maybe something else, old sycamores quite often look particularly deformed. Maybe the result of those drought years, causing gnarly knuckles on contorted branches, much like a dowager’s arthritic limbs wrapped in lacy finery of white and grey and blue. Stunning, absolutely stunning.
There are a couple of these aged duchesses in our neighborhood, one actually in my own back yard. It does not hold a candle to the one across the street. That one is magnificent. A landscape light is placed beneath it illuminating its magnificence for night time enjoyment. I almost look forward to winter so that I can take in its arterial appendages clutching at the sky. When it’s dark and stormy, its contorted limbs defiantly grasp at winter’s low hanging clouds, slipping through like tattered silk.
On rare days when those achingly blue winter skies taunt us, this crabbed claw implores. Aflame, it’s white branches point skyward, ala Michelangelo. Reach for the hand of God. Would that He would take it.
I love this tree. My living room window frames this living art creating a front row seat to every performance. It has become a personal part of my experience, my life in this place.
The weather in Ohio has been really freaky these past few years. Hurricanes, ice, unusually warm temperatures and torrential rains. We’ve experienced more than our share of grid problems due to declining maintenance of right of ways and the aging of the trees. Ice and falling limbs have taken out thousands of miles of lines across this state and others. So, a few years ago the push began to clean out the right of ways. A beautiful oak in my side yard was almost sheared down the center to protect the right of way. Whole trees taken down, just in case.
I found out a few months ago, “my” sycamore may on the bubble. It’s not impacting the right of way. But it might. It’s not endangering anyone’s home. But it might. It’s not diseased. Yet. Maybe it should go.
I wonder about the provenance of this tree. What has it seen? Was it here when Lewis and Clark passed by just south of here? Did it shelter those on the way to the treaty of Greenville? Or am I just a hopeless romantic, seeing life, recognition of life where none exists?
This heavenward launching entity started in a ball smaller than a golf ball. It survived hail, drought, cattle and suburban sprawl. It evolved from weedy shrublet to sapling to tree to this magnificent exclamation point of God. Why does it seem easy to discard that which achieves age, that which becomes inconvenient to our lifestyle? We visit museums to see the products of another age, another time, and yet in our backyards and in our own homes, those same standard bearers are extinguished.
I love this tree. I would love to bend the ear of an Ent.