The first trees I remember noticing as being other than something tall and green, or tall and brown when the weather was cold, were what the French called “fromagers”, “cheesemakers”. I can’t recall that they were in any way reminiscent of any type of cheese, but at the age of nine my experience with food in general was pretty limited.
What I do remember about those particular trees was that they had a very wide apron of enormous roots. They grew over, into and through the ruins of Angkor, in Cambodia.
The so-called “fromagers” of Angkor. The photograph is ancient and poor quality, but you can see a man standing inside the roots of that first tree.
My father was a photographer, something he took very seriously, and the ruins of Angkor, being largely buried in the jungle, he was forever waiting for the right light.
Mother and I waited in roots like these slapping at mosquitoes and wishing he would get on with it.
These trees were impressive, as were the giant redwoods that I saw many, many years later. I did also enjoy the sight of many flowering trees that I saw here and there. But it was not until I bought a house and garden with trees in it that I gave these splendid life forms anything like the admiration they deserve.
When I bought my house in Washington I inherited the giant maple you see in the picture above.
It was a magnificent old tree that had such character and homed untold numbers of creatures in it’s branches, roots and trunk. It covered the garden with some serious shade.
Across the street was a line of what I thought were cherry trees. They bloomed prettily for a few days each year. Certainly I was now sitting up and paying attention.
June 18th 2011 was Father’s Day. At the crack of dawn I was awakened by a loud CRUNCH and sighed, thinking there had been a crash on the road at the bottom of the hill. When the cats finally persuaded me they needed breakfast I threw on some clothes and followed the little devils downstairs, but I only got halfway.
My front door had a small window and I could see through it that something was lying across the road. It looked suspiciously like a piece of my tree. Opening the door I witnessed destruction and disorder! One of the thick branches of my lovely old tree had come crashing down, wiping out the telegraph wires and my fence and numerous branches of the pretty pink trees.
Obviously our power was out, and the road was blocked. I had to do something about it, not least because the police were there and the neighbors were expecting their Dads for Father’s Day barbecues!
With difficulty I found someone who was prepared to come out on Father’s Day to deal with my tree. It was a massive job. My fence was flattened along with the honeysuckle that grew on it and a couple of other plants were pretty well mashed. As well as my electric gate which would require an expensive new motor. I didn’t care about the latter but I felt bad about my plants and my poor tree. I knew it was old and every time there was a windstorm bits of branches would coming crashing down and impale themselves in the ground. I trembled at the thought someone might one day be underneath when this happened.
It was, I realized with great distress, time for the tree to come down. I can’t describe how deeply sad I was to see that beautiful, old and wonderful tree being taken down, piece by piece. For days, every time I drove round the corner and saw the empty space I would feel tears in my eyes.
When the debris was finally all removed I was left with what I thought must be the largest stump in the Puget Sound area. It was huge. Eventually it was cut much lower, but it was still big. The loss of that tree totally changed the ecosystem in that part of the garden which now had all-day sunshine. Around the stump, I grew some flowers but bracken began to grow and it is very pretty, so mostly I let it go wild.
The neighbor whose cherry trees had been bashed about, gave Grant some branches that he planted inside our fence. By the time I left, we had a set of those trees on our side of the road, but the funny thing was our trees bloomed white.
The one good thing about having that poor tree taken down was that the following winter we had a horrendous ice storm. I sat listening to bits and pieces falling on my roof. If the old maple had still been there I would have been a lot more nervous.
My honeysuckle grew back and thrived as did a rose that I pulled from the wreckage. It’s amazing how some plants have such a determination to live. As I re-planted them I apologized to them for the trauma. Perhaps it made the difference!