In Appreciation of Trees


I’ve missed my favorite trees from the past the way you might recall a friend who moved away and wish for their company. I’ll never see some of the trees again. They’ve been chopped down, they’ve fallen, been struck by lightning, or they are somewhere else I’ll never return to, or they’re on private property—trees that were my secret escape when I was growing up. I ran to them, sitting on their roots, my back resting on their trunks, and I’d tell them my frustrations. I’d ask where to go and what to do. Tulip poplars mainly. I followed the wind on a few occasions. I still love the flowers and the wonder of such a flower falling so far from the tops. 

Self portrait: Originally taken for an Instagram yoga challenge in 2016. #AsanArts
Tulip poplar flower. All nature photos by me. All yoga photos by Terry Morris.

There are trees that I knew only for a short time in my life—like a fun neighbor. We had a huge weeping willow, the largest I’ve still ever seen, and I could disappear underneath it. The canopy towered to the ground, as if Cousin It was a tree, and I loved it underneath there as much as I loved watching the Addams Family. This was my own special hideaway, and then we moved. I pass by that location every so often through my life on my way to visit my nana, and the tree is gone. There’s not even a stump that I can see from the road. I don’t recall when it wasn’t there on my drive—maybe in my twenties. 

I’ve never met a more gorgeous magnolia than one in my friends’ yard in Knoxville. It was impressive, old and large, uninhibited—the branches stretched low, medium, and high, filled with flowers and the tree held them up as candles. I picked my way through and underneath it until I reached an opening near the trunk—a circle of space, pristine for watching the birds flit up and around, for seeing the glowing yellow of the flower centers and taking in their fragrance, witnessing the tiniest insects and particles dance in the sunlight. I reached the trunk, straddling branches. 

Behind our last home, a small cluster of walnut trees grew with a hackberry. I watched a marsh hawk routinely perch and survey the ground. She flew down and grabbed lizards and small snakes. A gang of crows threatened to attack her one day. They showed up one by one. I don’t know how many there were in the end. Loudly, they cawed. They pressed around her, toward her, and they tried to take her branch. She defended by threatening her talon and hopping toward the crows as if in a joust. Eventually, she flew away. They could not catch her, though they pursued her. She returned the next day. 

Another Instagram yoga challenge photo. I enjoyed going out into nature for the yoga challenges.

Trees were my escape on playgrounds. If there wasn’t a tree, I felt exposed and anxious. The presence of a tree is calming to me.

The sycamore tree with the elephant’s face and trunk extending away from the riverbank. The roots that I walked upon, where I sat, and pools gathered between them, holding squiggly slimy life. The tree shedding as a snake, whorls of bark floating on the water. 

In college, the ginkgo behind Harned Hall that shines golden in the autumn. Looking out the window and daydreaming during class, seeing the leaves dance toward the football stadium. The band played, and the music drifted inside the classroom—ah, brass. Bright out there with a heavy discussion in here. 

After beginning our family, we leave behind the Japanese maple planted by the sidewalk of our first home. I watched it grow from knee-high to taller than me in five years, after my friend brought it as a gift. I was surprised and flattered by such a beautiful tree. The rich brown of the tree’s mahogany leaves tinted red and tipped yellow sometimes. I didn’t want to leave the tree, but it was happy. 

The sprawling oak with a hulking trunk—guardian tree watching the field and the barn where the mules emerge and trot up to the fence. Fat acorns beneath my feet, between the blades of grass crushed shells over the years as if pounded from beach waves. The seashells sprang to my mind—those under the mossy oak while the sea breeze blew the grey Spanish moss as beards on the beach. The trails alongside, leading away, but this tree, here, by the coquina quarry, how did it survive so? 

Holly leaves needled into my bare feet, one stuck there so I waddled on the side of my foot, limping to get to the trunk, to sit under its evergreen, but it defied friendship in my grandmother’s yard. No other trees were near it, but a whippoorwill called every evening from the cedar trees across the farm road. 

The sounds from the trees are often soothing. The creaking reminds me of hardwood floors or of rocking chairs and porch swings, again, sounds that I enjoy. The knocking of woodpeckers, tapping branches, scratching leaves, rustling limbs—all quite pleasant sounds in nature. 

The tinkling chimes in the tree, little bells ringing in the forest, dangling from maples and hemlocks, an invitation. Chirps and calls, screech owls and hoots, hawk cry, wren scolding, dove coo, wild turkey laugh, gobbling above, flapping, leaves drifting down. 

“What kind is this?” I asked, touching its bark. I knuckle bump my favorite grapevines when I run on the trails. I pat the trunk of a burr oak and keep going. I feel a tap on my shoulder sometimes when I move through a cluster of young trees. My toes dance on the old roots, up, up, up as stairs—roots bigger than the young trees’ trunks. And tumbling down into creeks, cooling the feet in the summertime. We wade into the sunlit patches where trees with hairy roots drip into pools. Quick rush and cool down and on the move again, looking up into the branches, telling the motion of storms to come, of oceans far away delivering buckets of waves. The shelter of the trees from the blinding rain, the cove of dry, huddling very close to a big base, where there’s an almost steamy space to wait it out when no rock enclosures are nearby, feeling thankful for the tree while resting there. They host so many lifeforms–vines and moss, fungi, insects… us…

I could continue to write about favorite trees…

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