Do you have a special tree that you recall from your youth? Maybe it was one you remember climbing. Do you have a favorite tree now? Maybe it’s one you joyously anticipate watching burst into spring blooms. What is it about trees that fascinate and captivate?
As a child, I had a favorite elm tree. I can still recall sitting under its huge branches where I wrote stories, read, or simply dreamed. With my writing supplies, current novel, and tall glass of orange Kool-aid nearby, life was near-perfect. The world was simpler in those days, and it’s a pleasant memory to bring up in stressful times.
After moving at the age of twelve to a house overlooking a pond, I had a new favorite tree. This one was a willow with branches that hung over the water. I played “Tarzan,” swinging on them and dropping into the pond. Years later, after I’d married and the tree had died, my husband cut a chunk of it to form a patio table. I still have part of the willow today, a piece of the past to take into the future.
In my travels, I’ve encountered several memorable trees. One was a Californian redwood that was so huge we could drive through the trunk. Another was a fascinating Hawaiian banyan. When I first saw this unusual tree with aerial roots that develop from its branches, some of which take root in the soil to become new trunks, I was transfixed. After making sure no one was watching, at the age of 47, I found a free, swinging root and once again grabbed hold. I discovered aerial roots are as sturdy as willow branches, and I barely suppressed the urge to try out my Tarzan call.
I was in Magnolia Springs, Alabama, in the 80s when I first visited the memorable Inspiration Oak with branches spanning nearly 200 feet. The property owner, who was rumored to suffer from dementia and supposedly disliked the flood of people viewing the tree, hired a man to girdle and kill the tree.
Here are the facts according to Marc D. Anderson’s updated 2019 article, “Inspiration Oak may be gone but park and tree's soured history live on in Baldwin County.” In October 1990, an unknown individual girdled the 27-foot-round trunk with a chainsaw, cutting off its food source. After discovering the damage, the county forcibly gained the land through condemnation proceedings. Then something remarkable occurred. A grassroots Save the Tree campaign brought arborists and concerned people from all over the world, including Russia, together to save it. They planted a ring of saplings around the trunk, grafting the saplings onto the tree, hoping they would provide the necessary food supply. Volunteers established a park and manned a fundraising gift shop. The guest register documented the thousands of visitors who wished the tree well. It was a valiant effort fueled by caring environmentalists, but ultimately the saplings didn’t save the tree, and three years later arborists declared Inspiration Oak was no longer alive.
My husband and I were able to buy a “cookie,” or tree slice. We discovered the huge tree, believed to be around 500 years old, was actually only 90 years old. It had made quite an impression in its 90 years.
Last week I discovered Florida has a living oak whose branches also span over 200 feet. Fairchild Oak is alive and healthy. It’s believed to be around 400 years old. The sign states that the Fairchild Oak has withstood hurricane winds, fires, droughts, wars and the follies of mankind for centuries. I hope it continues to survive for many more years.
I have a favorite Wisconsin Dells tree. Maybe you know it, too. It’s the majestic maple near the library that is always the first to show fall color. At its peak, it’s brilliant with oranges, golds, and reds. I love to drive past it on sunny October days.
What is it about trees that fascinate and captivate? Trees conjure up memories and connect us to nature. With their outstretched branch-arms, their solid trunks, and their ability to propagate, they guarantee a tomorrow. Trees give us with hope that humankind can team together for a future when a new generation can play Tarzan, swinging carefree underneath their sturdy boughs.