How to Be a Tree Hugger

When I was a girl I was always up a tree. The farm I grew up on spread out flat like a canvas dotted with so many different kinds of trees–apple, cherry, hedgewood, redbud, oak, juniper–it made no difference, I climbed them all.

We had a little orchard with apple, pear, cherry, peach, and plum trees. You do not know when you’re little what a privilege it is to walk out to the yard and pluck fresh fruit off a tree–local, organic, free–but the fruit meant nothing to me; it was the branches I cared about. We had an unusually large apple tree–the largest I’ve ever seen and I was fairly well persuaded as a child that it was planted right in that spot by Mr. Jonny Appleseed himself. The base of the tree was short and stout with a landing between two large branches that y’d out from the base. It was just the right height for little ole me to pull myself onto the landing and climb from there up the larger branches as high I could go before the skinnier and skinnier branches could no longer support my weight. The silver branches weaved together like a tapestry and formed a canopy overhead that guarded from the heat of the blazing sun and the cool drops of rain. I remember one year when the snow had already come and the apples were lush and red on that tree and my dad wanted to get the fruit in before it was all spoiled by the snow. I remember him climbing up into the tangled branches and dropping apples into my hands below.  I remember how cold it was in the wet snow. I remember after I had stayed for a while and all my brothers had gone back to the house, how my dad promised to pay me a dollar for staying with him and finishing the job. I remember caring nothing about the dollar–the comical sight of my dad all tangled like a cartoon character among the unruly branches that seemed to intentionally hold the fruit at arm’s length, just out of reach, was payment enough for me :] Many an hour I spent in and under that tree as a grew up on the prairie dreaming of bigger, better far away places…I have moved far from there now and have discovered no place better than the unsurpassable quiet found among the branches of that fat old apple tree.

We had a juniper tree tall, thin, and magnificent dotted with little blueish berries. I built a fort below it and climbed up its sticky, sap covered branches to look out for intruders and to watch the sunsets sweep across the sky in vain shades of pink and orange.

Across the yard, through the field, down into the woods, over the little bridge crossing the pond to the hedgewood tree I would march with my brothers. Here we built a fort together–and fought over its particular branches and landings from sunrise to sunset. Hedgewoods are not friendly trees; they are, with their thorny branches and rough bark, trees to be reckoned with and conquered. Their large green hedge apples filled with sticky glue were our weapons of choice when fighting for or defending the trees from which they came. The bright yellow wood hidden beneath the unassuming brown bark was too beautiful to burn and it always upset me when my dad insisted it burnt the longest and hottest and must be used for that purpose. I love fireplaces; I hate burning trees–they are simply too beautiful to burn.

We had three pine trees all standing in a row and in one of them we nailed a board here and there among the branches to sit on. I would climb up in that tree, find a cozy spot to lean back against the barky spine, open a book and there sit and read away the summer days until the sun finally gave out and settled behind the veil of the night sky.

Down through the fields, over the barbwire fence separating the neighbor’s land from our own, tip toe among the fat smelly black cows that so frightened me, and quick up into the tree with the enormous branch that grew straight out, stretching from the neighbor’s field across to our own. The neighbor’s were friends and did not care that I climbed their trees too. Here in the woods among the fat smelly black cows was my hideaway. Here the trees sat close together and the branches held hands overhead and the sun peeked through only in fleeting rays creating lacy sunshine patterns on the ground. Here the cows had trodden the grass into the dirt and left bare paths winding like a treasure map through the woods. Here I sat and grew up bit by bit, thinking the thoughts and feeling the feelings that have made me who I am today.

Last night a lay in bed thinking about the woods and the trees and the vast prairies spreading out endlessly before me. I thought about the smell of the country and the rustle of the wheat and corn rocking in the hot summer wind. I thought about the landscape of my childhood–vast and wild. I thought about the trees, the smell of the leaves, the feel of the bark and branches, the view from above–and missed it all terribly and realized what a terrible tree hugger I really am.

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