The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Wild Trees I Have Known
Ron Smith, Valley Morning Star, August , 2002, © 2004

One of my favorite childhood books was naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton's "Wild Animals I Have Known." I was dazzled by his knowledge and interaction with such creatures as Lobo, King of the Currumpaw, a southwestern wolf. Even though he participated in the hunt for this marauder, he reflected a sympathy and humane regard for him and other animals with which he came in contact. The book stirred my interest in the natural world to the point that I wanted to be a naturalist also.

Recently, I was thinking that this interaction can apply to trees. Our "nostalgia database" is packed with memories of the trees we have known and loved. For example, in the backyard of the first house I remember, there was a Box Elder, one of the maples. It became my favorite place to climb; you know how that higher view of the world is essential for growing up. One could do worse than be a climber of Box Elders, to paraphrase Robert Frost. I also loved to watch the winged seeds helicopter slowly to the earth stimulating my further interest in living things and how they grow.

Later in life, another important tree was the Eastern White Pine. Over a 100 years ago the robber lumber barons denuded the Michigan forests by taking enough pines to cover, theoretically, the entire state with one-inch boards. Only a couple of virgin stands remain. One day, my wife Sharron and I visited one of them called Hartwick Pines to see a nesting pair of Bald Eagles. I was driving a convertible with the top down. Passing the immense trees, We looked up and with binoculars watched a dot against the clouds bloom into a plunging eagle ...stooping straight for the car. We anticipated the "attack" like doomed rabbits. Of course, we knew the bird had no interest in us as prey, and he spread his wings, leveled into a glide, and landed on a bare branch displacing another eagle. One could identify with a rabbit, however.

Another wild tree I have known is the ancient sugar maple that looms outside the living room windows at our home in the northern Michigan woods. It is multi-branched, gnarled and seamed as these venerable trees can be. We have observed in its arms countless creatures over the years. They vary from a Cerulean Warbler out of range to common mammals like Raccoons. Up its gray branches in the spring scamper the baby coons. They begin as mere furballs just learning to climb; they look frightened and fall all over one another.. However, by the time summer saunters on, they are as acrobatic as the members of Cirque du Soleil. At night, we watch the delightful Eastern Flying Squirrels as they paraglide en route to our sunflower feeders. hey are all eyes, soft fur and quicksilver. Our old maple is a welcoming host.

That brings us to the Valley. South Texas is shaded by unusal trees: Sugar Hackberry, Rio Grande Ash, Anacua, Mexican Olive, Cedar Elm, Live Oak, Sabal Palm, Texas Ebony, et al. Even the thorns of many trees and shrubs are interesting. I have a fondness for the Honey Mesquite. Though it is a bane to some, you have to appreciate the beauty of those writhing trunks and branches and the light green glow of the lacy leaves. Another reason to like this species would be the numbers of birds and other living things that perch, nest and prey from its protective and convenient limbs. Driving down here on 77 or 281 it is a treat to see the White-tailed Hawks, White-tailed Kites and Crested Caracaras perched in mesquites. Owls love the tree for cover day and night. Orioles swing their baskets from them. Woodpeckers drum on them. Butterflies dance in their leaves. Cooks smoke with them. And because of their grain and durability, woodworkers use them for furniture, bowls, and many other wood projects. Some parts are even edible.

I have come to the end without quoting Joyce Kilmer's sentimental poem...till now: "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a........" You may finish if you want.

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