“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.” — Dr. Seuss, 1971
My dad first took me squirrel hunting. He drove us to Ballard County to hunt in what he called the Barlow bottoms. I learned to respect being alone and keeping quiet in the woods.
I learned to use my eyes, nose, ears, skill and patience stalking the wild squirrels in those deep woods of straight, massive and towering trees.
I learned to wait for a sure shot or not to shoot at all. And somewhere along the line I decided I wouldn’t shoot any squirrel unless it was to be eaten.
The floor of the bottoms was always damp. There were sloughs and creeks and washes. You could walk quietly if you minded where your feet were landing. I felt a kind of solemn reverence for this serious stealth and I learned to become almost one with the woods.
These early squirrel hunting trips became a kind of special awareness training for me. I viewed it as living alone for a time in an unyielding and beautiful world of simple rules and directions.
I learned to look for evidence of “hickernut” cuttings, to sight slight movements in treetops and to listen for sounds of gnawings, barkings, limb shakings, and hull droppings. I learned to walk softly and proceed slowly with care. I learned to be still and listen.
I learned that daybreak is a wonderous awakening while sneaking amidst the towering oaks, hickories, pecans, gums, and cypress.
I learned each tree had its own unique aura and I came to love the woods.
My squirrel hunting days are long past and I am left with a deep sense of appreciation for trees.
“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree,” so begins a short poem by Joyce Kilmer. It was published in 1914 and generally panned or ignored by critics as little more than simple verse. Now it is widely known as the most popular short poem in American history.
In 1918, at only 31, Joyce Kilmer was killed in France by a German sniper. He was honored by the French government posthumously. His popularity and daring as a volunteer soldier in World War I endured. He spoke for the trees.
Here at home, Mary and I don’t really have a lawn. We don’t have a carpet-like grassy yard, landscaped flower gardens, a vegetable garden, cultivated berry bushes, or a manicure-edged watershed with a dock. What we have is a field, a pond and lots of trees.
Our house is not visible from the road. We have a long gravel driveway that is tree-lined with overhanging limbs of old Red Oak, White Oak, Hickory, Pignut, Persimmon, Dogwood, Sycamore and Elm trees. Low-hanging branches are a constant nuisance for delivery trucks and need yearly trimming. Storm winds give us a constant supply of broken limbs, sticks and leaves.
The house is on the back side of an old pasture land that is anchored by a small weed-lined farm pond and surrounded by trees. We have loblolly pine, red cedar, red oak, red maple, sugar maple, black walnut, water oak, field pear, Bartlett pear, redbud, dogwood, plum and June-apple trees scattered all around — deciduous on the east and south sides, evergreens on the west/northwest side and an old woodlot on the north. Five black walnut trees share their messy droppings on the east side. Finally, there is an adjoining 18-acre plot of planted pines. Our house seems nested in trees.
On a cold, windy day in Greeley, Colorado, I remember standing in a small cluster of observers watching three University of Northern Colorado students plant two trees — a green ash and a silver maple — on the campus. This was the very first Earth Day. It was April 22, 1970. It was estimated that 20 million Americans took to the streets that day in some kind of protest of an increasingly polluted planet.
This past April 22, 2020, was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Since that first celebration our entire planet population has come to treasure trees more than ever before as crucial for nurturing and continuing earth’s life-sustaining qualities.
A worldwide milestone celebration was severely muted this year by the pandemic, yet Earth Day endures as the largest secular holiday observance in the world.
Trees are some of my greatest riches. Here in Fairdealing, Mary and I count our blessings to be surrounded by trees. Trees soothe and shelter birds and animals, they soothe and shelter our home and they soothe and shelter me.