The Golden Seed Grove Of Lemuria
"The Forest for the
I had many pet trees growing up: a tire-swing tree, a plum picking tree, an acorn gathering tree, a climbing tree, and a tree where cicadas deposited their shells for my fragile, chunky necklaces. I suppose my favorite tree was the weeping willow in my grandmother's backyard. She had moved to Iowa after my grandfather died. During hot summers, she would sometimes take a break from her outbuilding where she painted in oils. She and her Chihuahua and I would rest under the airy branches, like we were lounging in a gazebo. In high school, I admired two arborvitaes that flanked a favorite mausoleum. My friends and I would linger under the moonlight in our favorite cemetery discussing the meaning of life. We'd gaze up at those evergreens as if they were standing stones at Stonehenge. But, for the most part I didn't know how to name my trees until I heeded the call to become a landscape designer.
A non-traditional student, at the ripe old age of 30, I decided to enroll in a college where many classes included long hikes through campus grounds and parks so students could study the habits of deciduous trees and conifers. The professor, a ruddy faced, middle-aged pipe- smoker, had led the tour so many times, I found myself running to keep pace with his ambitious strides.
The professor would call the name of the species and cultivars in both botanical and common terms, and we'd cock our heads to catch his voice in the wind. We would scribble into our notebooks, collect leaf samples, sketch the position of the buds on the branches. We memorized each tree's fall color, fruit color, flower color, leaf color, whether or not the trees were native or had been brought over by immigrants. We learned whether they were canopy trees in the woods or understory trees. Did they like shade or sun, alkaline, acid, moist or dry soil? We learned their bark, their winter architecture, their folklore, and their lifespan, whether or not they were prone to certain diseases, if they had weak branches, or if their roots were strong enough to buckle a sidewalk. My classmates and I would drill each other before a test while sitting in the shade of a large maple, chanting like a group of ancient scholars: "Fraxinus, Malus, Salix, Gingko biloba . . "
I spent 10 years working in landscaping. Sometimes I helped unload trees from delivery trucks at the nursery. The balled and burlapped specimens were so large the strongest men couldn't move them around without using a dolly. There were days I stood on the lot during hot afternoons watering trees until my duck boots drowned and my feet got so wet they'd burn and itch even after I'd return to work behind the cash register. Sometimes I'd sit at a drawing board for hours, finding the best position for a tree on my client's house plan, deciding on the tree's spring, summer, fall or winter appeal, ease of maintenance, height, color, texture, or shape. I thought of the mood or era I wanted my tree to evoke depending on the lay of the land or the style of the house: should it be romantic, modern, or classic? I'd visit homes, and each family member would tell me a garden fantasy: "I always wanted a tire- swing tree," an older man once said on a walk to the wood's edge. I jotted down on my clipboard: Quercus macrocarpa--Bur oak.
Today the essence of pines takes me back to my grandmother's first art studio when my grandfather fished in the brook, or sat in his study and smoked his pipe. The small cottage steeped in turpentine, once nestled in the mountains of Evergreen, Colorado. Now that I'm a writer, I'm glad I know the names of trees. And the forest has a more familiar face.