Welcome back to the last post in a three part series all about trees. Not sure where my fascination with trees came from, maybe it was because I grew up in the Northern Great Plains where there weren’t many native trees. Sure there were some majestic cottonwood trees around and some elm, ash, boxelder and a variety of shrubs. After the dust bowl days of the 1930’s, when hot temperatures, drought and dry winds picked up the plowed virgin topsoil and carried it east as far as New York City and Washington, D. C., the Federal Government formed the Soil Conservation Service. They promoted and cost shared strip cropping and tree belts to help keep the soil intact and preserve moisture for growing crops and raising livestock. By all measures, this effort was very successful and continues today with additional innovations such as no-till (sometimes called no thrill!) planting thus reducing the disturbance of the soil resulting in less wind and water erosion. Maybe that’s why there are an estimated three trillion (that’s with a t) trees on earth with about half in the tropics. It’s also estimated that since cultivated agriculture began over 12,000 years ago, the number of trees has been reduced by about 40% something to be concerned about for the future.
I recall my Grandparents talking about driving on the road from their farm to town to attend church during one of these ’30’s dust storms and having to turn the lights on so they could see the road. They described the fine particles of dust infiltrating everything that wasn’t sealed tightly. Since then, farmers planted a lot of tree strips in fields and shelter belts around farmsteads and livestock lots. As kids, we found the shelter belt on our farm a great place to play and explore. As the trees matured, lots of wildlife took up residence including critters like skunks that we didn’t want around too close! When the trees were planted, it included a lot of fruit trees such as plums, chokecherries, gooseberries and later on some crabapples. So these trees not only provided protection, they also provided some delicious food.
Trees do a lot of wondrous things like provide shade and shelter for humans and animals, heat when burned, lumber for structures, some provide food such as apples, berries and nuts, and many other products like latex, rubber and cork. Some trees serve as ornamentals thus adding to the beauty of the world around us. One of the most amazing things they do is to remove carbon dioxide from the air, store carbon in their tissues and add oxygen to the atmosphere. This goes along with their ability to reduce erosion and help the soil hold it’s moisture thus moderating the climate around them. Amazing isn’t it?!!
Here’s another use of trees, something to play on like these kids on the Capitol Square in Madison.
With the government shut down still in progress as I write this on day 22, I’ve been reading about the impact on Joshua Tree National Park. This park preserves its namesake and is located in the Mohave Desert east of Los Angeles and San Bernardino in Southern California. Since most of the park staff are furloughed, there are reports that vandals illegally chopped down some of these protected trees and attempted to burn them, also illegal. Not sure what these people are thinking, must be “let’s wreck havoc when no one is looking” approach to life. These are such interesting and unique trees, I can’t imagine why some would try to purposely destroy them.
The weather such as fog can have an impact how we view and photograph trees. These photos were taken in three completely different places, the top in Redwood National and State Parks in northern California and the second near Volcan Turrialba in Costa Rica. The last photo was taken in the winter here in Wisconsin, note this old oak tree was still hanging on to it’s leaves even in the dead of winter!
In our travels, we’ve observed where fires have affected the forests. Below are two examples, the top in Crater Lake National Park in Oregon where a recent fire had burned several hundred acres of trees. The bottom photo was in Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington and shows the devastation years after a major fire. Even though burned and dead, the trees are still performing their duty of holding the fragile soil together.
When photographing landscapes and trees, I often look around for a body of water to add to the interest of the photo. In these examples, the reflection of the tree in the water really is the center of attention in the photo.
Here’s a photo with a tree reflected in a window, I think more interesting than a photo of the tree sans leaves. What do you think?
Trees or parts of trees are commonly used as metaphors (a figure of speech where one thing refers to another) in speech and writing to help clarify or identify a connection between two ideas. A very commonly used biblical metaphor is the tree of life, raising it’s arms to the sky in prayer, bark to protect from harm and roots to hold it steady. It also helps to explain aging; humans are like trees that decline as they age, some faster than others. Another metaphor might be a business is like a tree, it should find water quickly, focus on growth, branch outward, change for the seasons, and watch for patterns. Other examples of tree metaphors are: it sheds it’s leaves in the fall, rests and comes back in the spring; like trees, human are diverse, some small, some large, some short, some tall, some female, some male, some gender neutral, etc.; and much like our bodies, the mostly hidden roots of a tree nourish the visible growth and are rarely seen except when cut into. And to provide an exception to the preceding root metaphor, these photos are examples where roots are exposed to the elements but help the tree stayed anchors to the rocky and hard soil.
Trees also point upward towards the sky, to help us see the world beyond the forest. Sometimes we see the sun that warms the soil to help the trees nurture and grow, at other times we see the clouds that cool the hot sun but also provide water for nourishment, and at other times we see darkness and a time to rest.
With that I think that’s a proper way to end my trilogy on trees. It was fun to rediscover some of the photos and then create stories around them. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did.
Until next week, happy travels!