Saturday, February 25, 2006

Pecan Trees

When my mother and her sisters were children, my grandfather planted a tree in their backyard that he had twisted into a loop and tied so it would grow in a circle. Years later, when I was a child and would play in that same backyard, that tree became the first one I ever climbed. It was small and had grown perfectly looped, making it easy for small hands and legs to hook into.

The trees were larger at my own home, and as I grew, so did my courage to climb them. (I’m not entirely sure that my mother knew how often I did this; it is probably one of those things best realized when your child is grown and safe already.) The woods around my home were rife with climbing candidates, particularly the pines behind the house. If there were a limb low enough for me to grab, I would latch on and throw my legs up like the tree was a set of monkey bars. I would climb as high as I dared and wonder at how different the landscape looked from up there.

Different friends had their own trees, and each tree had its own purpose. One friend’s giant pine served as the perfect water balloon bombing station. Another friend’s tall oak had large, long limbs perfect to imagine as the cockpit of the space shuttle, and we took turn being commanders.

As I got older I stopped climbing, but I still enjoyed the trees for other purposes. The shade of one on a summer’s day for reading. The trunks of two to stretch a hammock between. Watching maple leaves flip to their silvery underside, signaling impending rain. Snow coating bare branches, making everything drab and gray about a New York winter sparkling and beautiful.

I now live far from those trees of my youth, in a part of the southwest where there are no pine trees to make my hands sticky with sap and no snow to collect like diamonds on branches. There is a dearth of vegetation of any kind in the desert of central Arizona, popular opinion would have you believe. There are lots of trees here, actually. All of them were brought in by professional landscapers at great expense to make this harsh desert more hospitable. The most obvious are the palm trees, but the most striking are the pecan trees.

Pecan trees are large and sprawling. Their branches spider outward, begging to be climbed by courageous children or small animals. In the spring and summer, their lush foliage provides much-needed shade in the blistering heart of the desert. In the fall and winter their black trunks and spidery limbs are starkly beautiful against the blue desert sky. These trees towering over me feel safe and strong and permanent in a way that little in a city like Phoenix does. There is an organic vegetable farm south of the city that is open to the public that has dozens of these trees lining its driveway, and I look forward to each visit for the pleasure of walking beneath them.

Do you have a favorite tree?
This one, located in a suburb of Detroit, is mine:


Blogger Big Ben said...

My grandmother lived in the country and one tree had the perfect branches, you could climb 50 or more feet in the air with little effort.

9:57 AM  

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