For the Love of Trees – Part 1

Greetings and salutations,

A few weeks ago, an email from a photography site that I follow popped up with the subject line, Tree Photography Tips and Techniques. That gave me the idea to blog and share some of my tree photos that I’ve taken over the years. As I was searching my archives for tree photos, I recalled the American author and poet Joyce Kilmer’s poem, Trees, that we were encouraged (read forced!) to memorize in grade school, I think in the fourth or fifth grade. I attended a country school just down the road about a half a mile from our farm for the first through fifth grades before rural busing began to the local town. We had decent teachers (albeit, a new one every year, usually a new college grad) that did their best try to teach us country bumpkins enough reading, writing and arithmetic to get by in the world. They must have done a pretty good job because some of my classmates became teachers, attorneys, Ph.D.’s, engineers, politicians, and successful farmers. We didn’t have a library at our school so we depended on the State Library to send us a box of books each month that most of us readily devoured and anxiously waited for the next box to arrive. After a few years, the regional bookmobile started arriving at our school, never skipped on those days! Since we had all eight grades in our one room school, we often listened to the lessons being taught to the upper grades so in some areas we were pretty advanced in our learning but the classics and poetry were not our thing! After that little reminiscence, back to trees and Joyce Kilmer.

While I couldn’t recite the full poem today from memory but I do vividly recall the words of the first and last stanzas. Here’s the short famous poem in it’s entirety.


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.


In his poetry, writing and lectures, Kilmer often referenced the natural world and linked it to his religious faith as he did in the poem above. He’s known for the simple, sentimental, and traditional verse, and in fact was often criticized for his approach and parodied by other authors and poets like this one by American humorist and poet Ogden Nash:

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.

Indeed, unless the billboards fall,
I’ll never see a tree at all.

Kilmer’s life was cut short at age 31 by a German sniper’s bullet on July 30, 1918 at the Second Battle of Marne, the beginning of the end for the German aggressors on the Western Front. Even though he had a significant body of work published, his early death never provided him an opportunity for his writing to develop and mature. I do appreciate that he left behind this poem that has meant so much to so many people.

With that as a background, let’s see some photos! My regular readers may recall that I grew up on the semi-arid plains of western North Dakota. There, trees are in short supply except along rivers, streams and in coulees where rain and snow runoff provide enough moisture to sustain tree life. For years on the Great Plains, the USDA Soil Conservation Service in conjunction with local Soil Conservation Districts promoted and cost shared the planting of tree strips to reduce soil erosion from wind and water. Also included were shelter belts (3 or more rows of trees and shrubs) to protect livestock and farmsteads from the fierce winter winds and snow. My Dad was an early adopter of planting trees, not sure where that came from, maybe it was because he was born near Alexandria, Minnesota, an area abundant in tree life (my Grandmother was visiting her parents at the time of Dad’s birth). Anyway, as a kid and young adult, when we didn’t have anything else to do, we were sent out to hoe and weed the trees especially when they were young. That job didn’t endear me to trees but as I matured I learned how important trees were for our livelihood! Here’s a photo of one of those tree strips still surviving on the farm.trees-8012

Down the road from the farmstead about quarter mile, growing in a ditch along a gravel road is a tree that I’ve photographed a number of times over the years. That tree was removed a few years back as a safety hazard and to me it left a gapping hole in the landscape. I don’t know what kind of tree it was, likely an American Elm or how it came to grow in that spot but it persevered over a lot of years. The top photo was taken facing north and the bottom facing south.trees-7775trees-7729

Here’s another photo of that tree taken in the winter on a blustery day with snow drifting across the road. I think I found this tree more interesting and appealing against the snow and starkness of the winter landscape.trees-7981

To the east of the farm, in the neighbors field in a low spot (we call them potholes) is a small grove of volunteer trees. This photo was taken at sunrise during the summer at 5 AM. What was I thinking?!trees-3410

A few miles down the road, east of the farm are some volunteer trees growing out of a big rock pile. The area around us is on the south side of the Missouri River where the last glacier stopped its advance and therefore defecated (best word I could find!) a lot of rocks that require almost constant picking. Anyway, the rock pile served a purpose here to serve as the habitat for these trees.trees-1026trees-1031

Trees grow in some of the weirdest places such as this one among the old machinery boneyard. Likely from a seed deposited by birds using the discarded machines as a perch.trees-6526

A few miles from the farm in some pasture land my brother rents stands this lonely tree that the cows often use as a backscratcher or maybe for a little shade on a hot day.trees-7519

These trees near Lake Sakakawea prove that preservation, access to water and the right soil will generate a nice stand of trees.trees-8098

These trees are located in the North Dakota Badlands where I often photograph. The trees in the first two photos appear to be dead but still serve a purpose on the dry prairie, sheltering the undergrowth for new plants to thrive and a place for wildlife to hide. The bottom photo is a typical example how a tree sends it roots for water to survive and hold the soil together in the badlands.trees-2918trees-2833trees-1724

Hope you enjoyed this introduction to trees and remember: I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree! Poems are nice but trees are better. Stay tuned for more trees!

Until next week, happy travels!



10 thoughts on “For the Love of Trees – Part 1

  1. Loved this entry. Enjoyed learning about your early years at school in North Dakota and of course your lovely photos of trees.

  2. Beautiful! I have always had such a difficult time photographing trees and have sort of stayed away from it because of that! These are lovely. I really like the winterscapes. Love from Michigan,


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