Gainesville, Florida is a Tree City, which means it has a plan, a budget, and staff dedicated to maintaining the tree canopy. click In my neighborhood the sky is filled with tree tops. Sunrise, sunset, moon and stars, fluffy white clouds or dark mountains of thunder-heads - all are framed by the curving branches.Though Gainesville prides itself on its tree canopy, trees are not an unalloyed blessing. Sweetgum balls threaten bare feet. Acorns make a racket on the roof. A giant sycamore across the street sheds 8-inch brown leaves every fall, littering gardens all around. Worst is the pollen. The daily paper gives us the pollen count, but we don’t need the paper to tell us it’s been high for the past week. All of our cars are covered in fine yellow powder, and even those who are not very susceptible are sneezing and coughing non-stop.
And then there is the lethal combination of old trees and hurricanes. In the summer of 2004, four hurricanes hit Florida: Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jean. Frances and Jean came to Gainesville. Trees fell on cars, houses and power lines. The streets were littered with huge branches and trunks, and all over town people lost electricity for weeks. As Frances blew away, our power came back in just thirty minutes, and I said to Joe as we went to bed, “We’re so lucky to have lights; I feel as if a tree should fall on us or something.”
Not five minutes later our neighbor’s huge water oak obliged, crashing down on the roof right over our heads, breaking the beams and cracking the ceiling. We carried everything into the living room and slept on the couch. In the morning we saw the mess. The tree was over four feet in diameter. It leaned across our side yard and covered half the roof. It was dead, the core was rotten, and it was just waiting for a big storm to take it down.
The ceilings were cracked in all four bedrooms. We lived in the living room for the next nine months while workers invaded our home, drilling, hammering, painting, listening to right-wing talk radio, and reeking of cigarette smoke.
Several letters to the editor at the end of that terrible hurricane season had an I-told-you-so tone, sneering at tree-huggers and complaining about the money Gainesville spends protecting trees. But even with litter, sore feet, pollen and calamity, I remain a tree-hugger.
At the end of my street is a city nature sanctuary. It's about 155 acres, and includes Paradise Pond and Hogtown Creek Headwaters Nature Park. Paradise Pond is a stormwater drainage area, two clearings in the woods. The first is a small pond, or in dry weather, a mud puddle. The trees here are full-grown, filled with birdsong and hammering woodpeckers.
In the second clearing, spindly saplings, all nicely labeled, were planted in a ring around a long oval depression - I’ve never seen enough water in it to take it beyond soggy. My dog Trisket and I last went there four years ago. It was not an inspiring sight, and we preferred the pond, where she could splash around and get muddy.
North Florida spring begins in February, with redbuds, dogwoods, and yellow jessamine high in the trees. Now it’s early March and we’re well into spring, though just last week we had to cover all the tender plants at night and scrape ice off our windshields in the morning.
After a long hiatus that was bad for both of us, Trisket and I have resumed our daily walks, and we returned to the second clearing and the ring of trees. The saplings are now sturdy adolescents, big enough to cast a bit of shade. Like all the trees in Gainesville, they are leafing out in every shade of jade,bronze and brick. The leaves are still too small to conceal the graceful branches and bright blue sky.
Though most of the labels have disappeared, some remain: white ash in the olive family, pignut hickory in the walnut family, and an overcup oak in the beech family. How did an oak get into the beech family - intermarriage? I check the internet and find that oaks, beeches and chestnuts are all in the same family: fagaceae. Who knew? My ignorance is as wide as the world. There is one tree I know without a label: the winged elm, so called because of the cork wings along the twigs.
copyright 2002 Steve Baskauf click
We’ve recently planted a lot of trees in our yard: tulip poplar, red maple, Savannah holly, fringe tree, white marsh grapefruit and honeybell orange. I walk from one to the other, examining their buds, touching their still-smooth bark, dreaming their futures. On my walks with Trisket, it’s easy to keep my eyes on the ground, looking for broken pavement and other obstacles. But trees pull my gaze up to the beautiful sky. Whether I’m pondering or brooding, grieving or rejoicing, I feel blessed by the universe. I love trees.
Many thanks to Stefanie Nagid and Stefan Broadus, both with the City of Gainesville, for helping me find information. Here is a gift for you that I found on a morning walk:
Sunlight in branches,
Silence in birdsong:
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Next post: March 29
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