Sunday, November 27, 2011

To Tree Or Not To Tree: The Answer's Easy!

(From today's Times and News-Star)

The fall has been a dream for those of us who love all things arbor. The autumn color this year is as good as I can recall.

Last week on a spin east, the north Mississippi woods were on fire. Oranges and reds and yellows of maple, sweetgum and oak. The bronze and auburn and purple mix alone was enough to drop a jaw.


Now and then I drive through new subdivisions and sometimes entire towns with no or precious few trees.

That hurts me.

These treeless tundra are grateful, I suppose, whenever ice storms pass and no limbs fall on power lines. But otherwise, what’s a landscape without a tree? Might as well be a car port.

To tree, or not to tree, that is the question. And the answer is an easy one: you’ve got to tree.

There was (and still is) a giant sweetgum in the front yard of the house I used to live in, and some years it would really strut it’s stuff and other years it would be only spectacular. Some sort of off-season chemistry in the weather – the rain or drought or temperature or hours of sunlight – makes the difference in just how high Mother Nature turns the volume up in the fall. This spring and summer, the elements combined for a just-right autumn picture show.

To paraphrase a branch of the military, “Tree all that you can tree.”

I knew I was getting older when I started to A) look forward to visiting my parents, just to sit around and talk about nothing in particular, B) buy new underwear way before I needed them, and C) anticipate the leaves changing in late September. Funny how that works…

There are several people I can talk arbor with, but one of my heroes in the leaf game is my friend Kathie, whose last name I can’t tell you because that would be indiscreet. (Rowell. Kathie Rowell. Editor of The Times Living section.) Kathie brought me along with tender care when I first began to show an interest in admiring and caring for things that grew from the ground. My questions changed from “Is this edible?” to “When should I plant?”

One of the very reasons Kathie and Brian bought their house was because of the dogwoods in the yard. “It was fall,” she said, “and I was smitten.”

“The dogwoods struggled with the drought and are more brown this year than the deep red they usually turn,” she said in filing her annual color report for me; “this year the best in my yard has been the silverbell, which turns golden yellow.”

Kathie and I are front-row fans of the ginkgo. Their little fan-shaped leaves turn as yellow as I can imagine a leaf being. By themselves or in bunches (a gaggle of ginkgos?, a pride?, a herd?), the ginkgo tree is a stud among literal studs. I have seen them from Athens to Oxford, and when they turn on the juice, it’s always like I’m seeing them for the first time.

“I love the way the leaves are all on the tree one day and the next they all fall at the same time, carpeting the ground with yellow,” Kathie said.

The golden hickory. The undervalued but dependable crepe myrtle, which is always trying to do something to add to the game. The maple, a glowing red in my back yard and now nearly naked but man, what a show.

Got tree?