I think that I shall never see …
Most of you reading this probably can recite the next line of Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem. If you’re like me, you might be able to recite the whole thing. I learned it back in grade school somewhere and still know it. My pals at the time always snickered a little extra when it got to the part about “A tree whose hungry mouth is prest/Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast.”
I bring this up because I’ve always loved trees. Some people look at trees as things that get in the way of roads and housing developments or that are there to be cut down and thrown into the fireplace. Not me. I think of each tree as being its own unique little universe, each one with a special story to tell.
The latest Brainiac estimate is that there are somewhere around 3 trillion trees on Planet Earth. This should be encouraging to a tree hugger like me. But it’s not.
Because in my back yard, there are three fewer trees than there were a week ago.
Last year, two ash trees and one maple tree in my back yard died. The two ash trees were victims of the dreaded emerald ash borer (despicable Chinese invader!). The maple tree was right next to the ash tree, and had been there for many years, so I think it just decided that if his friend was checking out, he was going, too.
I had to have all three trees cut down last week. It was a sad day.
There are those who think trees should be perfect – if they’re not shaped just right or in the exact perfect spot, then they need to go. I think trees are like people, and we should appreciate them for what they are. You have your fashion model or movie star trees that look just right. Then you have your truck driver or teacher or gardener trees that might have a few dead branches or some wayward limbs here and there. I really like those gnarly trees. They have personality. I look at it like this: the little gingko tree in my front yard, which is just about perfect, is like one of my grandchildren. The old, craggly hickory tree in the back yard is like me. The gingko is younger and nicer-looking, but the hickory has a lot more stories to tell.
I even have mulberry trees in my back yard that I tolerate. They’re kind of ugly and messy and a little bit annoying, but the birds and squirrels seem to like them. Besides, I look at it like this: if we looked at people the way we look at plants and animals, and wiped people out just because they were a little annoying or not quite perfect, I wouldn’t last very long.
What’s more, trees are their own little worlds for all kinds of creatures. Insects live on them, squirrels use them for highways, birds drop in on them now and then to visit or find something to eat. We would be amazed if we knew all the things that went on in one single tree on one single day.
The residents of my back yard already are trying to adjust to the spaces left by the missing trees. I can see squirrels up there in the hickory tree looking out into space wondering where the next stop on their high-wire highway went. On the other hand, it looks like I’ll finally be able to grow some grass under where those trees used to be.
Eventually I’m going to replace the two trees that were next to each other with another tree. I just can’t decide what kind to put there. I would like to get a nice maple that has red leaves in the fall, but of course by the time it gets really big I’ll be long gone.
But that’s OK. Maybe if this planet survives, someday someone will appreciate that maple tree. Sure, they’ll have to rake the leaves up and pick up the sticks after a storm, but it’s worth it.
I guess my one tree won’t make a big difference in a world of 3 trillion trees, but I’ll still do my part. It might be just one tree, but it will be my tree, and that will make it special. Besides, there’s something at work here that is bigger than me.
If I can paraphrase Kilmer a little bit: “Columns are written by fools like me/But only God can make a tree.”
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected]