Friday, March 06, 2009


We had a lot of trees in our yard when I was a girl. Daddy believed we should have a large variety so that if a disease infected one type we would still have shade. He and Mom started from scratch. The lot had been a field before they built the house, but I only know that from pictures.

I remember the locust tree out front. It had tiny little leaves grouped together in fronds. It was not a honey-locust or a black locust, but I don't know exactly what variety it was. I do remember that the cicadas liked the bark of that tree. They would anchor tight and then shed their old shells, flying away and leaving behind fragile empty cases. We would gingerly pull them off the tree and anchor the ghosts onto our sweaters. All the neighborhood boys loved it, but very few of the girls. Most shied away and some even shrieked.

Next to the locust was a clump of paper birch. The white bark was always shaggy and oh so tempting to pull. The branches hung down like a beaded curtain. My favorite memory of the birch is when a flock of goldfinches converged on the trees, feasting on the seeds and creating a flickering riot of golden yellow.

On the west side of the house were two gum trees. I didn't know if there were any other gum trees in town. I had never heard of gum trees. When I became a Girl Scout I learned the song about the Kookaburra bird from Australia, "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree..." I was delighted to discover that maybe gum trees weren't so unusual after all. They were a pretty tree, but I must say I didn't like them much. That was because of the seed balls that were prickly. Once the birds had their way, what was left was a stickery round skeleton that hurt to step on. That was only one of the reasons Mom didn't let us go barefoot in the yard.

There was a red maple on the west side of the house too. I loved the burgundy color of its leaves, standing out from all the other trees.

In one corner of the yard was a dwarf sour cherry tree. It was originally in another location but was moved when my parents added an in-ground pool. The sour cherry tree didn't seem to mind. It was quite prolific, giving us gallons and gallons of cherries, even after the birds got some. Daddy tried all kinds of things to keep the birds from eating the bulk of the crop. I think what he finally settled on most years was lengths of cheesecloth draped over large sections, and several aluminum pie pans spinning and dangling from branches to scare away the critters. Even though it was a dwarf tree, we still needed a ladder to pick most of the cherries. A fair number went directly into our mouths, but there were still plenty left to cook with, as long as we helped to pit them. Mom would give us each an old, large, worn-out shirt to wear as a smock and we would sit on the back porch with the buckets and bowls lined up on the picnic table. Mom didn't make pies, but Daddy made jam. Yum! And some would be saved for later by freezing them in square plastic boxes.

In the back of the house, next to the dog run, was a tulip poplar tree. Its leaves were such a pretty shape, but the flowers were a bit showy for me. And the bits that remained from the flowers included a kind of spiky bit that was another thing to avoid with bare feet. The shade from that tree was terrific and I know the dogs we had loved to lie in its shade when the temperature soared in the summer.

At the north-east corner of the house was a pinoak. Mom kept cutting off the lower limbs to keep the view clear. I remember how straight its trunk was.

To the east of the pool was another cherry tree, though I don't remember getting more than two or three cherries off of it. I don't know what variety of cherry it was supposed to be, but I always called it a "weeping cherry tree" because its branches drooped. It was never really happy in our yard, but my parents seemed to want to give it more time.

In the north-east corner of the yard were three pine trees. I remember when they were planted, in a triangle in the corner of the yard. They were slightly different sizes so I thought of them as papa bear, mama bear, and baby bear trees. They grew quickly. Before long, they were big enough to hide in. My brother and I took bricks left from the house remodel and used them as pavers to create a floor in the space between the trees. It was a great area, like an out-door playhouse. I can still smell the pine.

In the south-east corner of the yard was an apple tree. Daddy bought it because it was a Jonathan Apple tree, but when it finally got big enough to have fruit we discovered that it wasn't a Jonathan after all. I don't know what he decided it was. He didn't like to the spray the trees and the apples always ended up buggy. More landed on the ground to rot or go into the compost pile than made it into the kitchen.

In front of our carport and shed was a copper beech tree. Mom loved seeing the giant beech trees when we vacationed in Massachusetts and decided they should plant one. Beech trees grow so slowly that it always seemed like a small tree to me. For years it was small enough for me to put my hands around. I think that by the time I was in college it was finally big enough my hands could not span the trunk. I would like to think that beech tree will be there for decades to come, but I can only hope it is still there.

Between the shed and the house was a sycamore tree. The bark on this tree seem to flake off, but that's what it is supposed to do. The seed balls were the same size as the gum tree's balls, but the sycamore ones were not stickery and didn't hurt. I now know that sycamores like to have "damp feet" and there are some gorgeous specimens along the Charles River near Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This was another tree that no one else in my hometown seemed to have. When I was little the only other place I'd heard of one was in the Presbyterian church. They taught us a song about Zaccheus sitting in a sycamore tree (the savior for to see), and something about "come down" from the tree.

There were other trees in my childhood, but these are the trees of my yard. I hope you enjoyed the tour. Maybe another day I'll tell you about the other trees, the ones in Gramma's yard, or in the park next door, or the other handful of special ones around my childhood town.

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