Friday, April 30, 2010

The Welcoming Tree

Kid's are naturally drawn to trees, but most adults worry when a kid actually climbs one. There's a danger of slipping, losing grip, falling. Maybe the wear and tear on the bark will hurt the tree. And besides, trees look neater if they're trimmed up. So even trees that once were climbable end up responding to a child's yearning with a haughty stare.

One day a few weeks ago, we happened upon an exception, at Princeton University housing off of 206, and my daughter instantly responded to the call of all those wonderful low, welcoming limbs.

This white pine is like no other I've ever seen, dwarfing the two story house behind it, too big to squeeze into a photo from 100 paces.

Its nine trunks rise in parallel, each one big enough to be an impressive tree in its own right. This tree is not so much climbed as entered--so as to find oneself surrounded by a forest of one tree's making.

I wondered at how it possibly could have taken its shape. The main stem has long since been cut, leaving what looks like the turret of a castle. Perhaps I give too much credit to think that there was someone--fifty, seventy five years ago--with the vision to let the low lateral branches curve upwards to make a forest of a tree. There was genius here, in this courtyard, whether of intent or serendipity.

Arbor Day is being celebrated today. I suspect it dates back to a time when farm fields dominated the landscape and trees were scarce. Now trees are numerous, but I wonder if kids will grow up to be advocates for trees if they can only experience them from a safe distance. There's lots of talk of planting trees, but who is growing and tending the welcoming trees of tomorrow?

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