For The Love of Trees

January 1872, J. Sterling Morton used his status as a prominent, successful journalist and editor, to propose there be a holiday in Nebraska, where he lived, to plant trees on April 10th of that year.  Morton was a passionate and knowledgeable arborist. That was the first Arbor Day.  Prizes were given to counties and towns for planting the most trees and it was estimated over one million trees were planted in Nebraska that day. Later Arbor Day became an official Nebraska holiday and moved to Morton’s birthday. Eventually other states adopted Arbor Day and the day settled upon for most places was the last Friday in April, though often states set dates more ideal for planting trees in their region.

Here in Washington, the Washington State Legislature designated Washington’s Arbor Day as the second Wednesday in April, which this year was April 11th, 140 years and one day from the first Arbor Day.

Arbor Day, and the Arbor Day Foundation (founded in 1972 on the centennial of Arbor Day), is designed to encourage people to plant and care for trees.  In recent years Earth Day, April 22, which began in 1970, often overshadows Arbor Day, with a larger, global and multifaceted agenda. Yet for obvious reasons, the two go hand in hand. Without trees, not much else on earth will survive.

I am a tree lover. In fact I have a tree lover.  It is a stately beauty (to my eyes) I saw from a distance about five years ago, a fir that seemed to stand out from its neighboring fir buddies due to a bluish/grey tint to its bark.  It is a secret affair. We hug, well I hug, and chat a bit with it when I am in its vicinity.  It has been there for me through many difficult times and I comfort it when winter storms bring down its huge branches. Although my husband knows about this affair, they have never met.

He (my husband Mike) is also a tree lover. His particular fondness is for Big Leaf Maples. He is always proclaiming one Maple or another to be the LARGEST Big Leaf Maple he has ever seen.  During his years as a tree-planter Mike estimates he planted half a million trees, all conifers, mostly first.  When we are driving around on the Olympic Peninsula, or traveling in some other area of the state where he planted, he will point out a section where ‘his’ 20 or 30 year old seedling-children have grown to be fine young strapping trees.  He continues to plant seedlings here and there in the woods where trees have fallen or we have had to take down a tree or two.

We did not plant any trees this Arbor Day, in fact a few weekends ago Mike fell a small Big Leaf Maple that grew back from the stump of a tree he took down several years ago.  It is a playful game between him and the maples, they never die, they just start over and we enjoy them until they become ‘problematic’ in their over abundance of shade, or their limbs threaten to fall on the house.  We live among hundreds of trees and we kindly have to explain to some that we too need a bit of space to thrive.  It is with reverence we remove a tree, and it is with gratitude we appreciate the warmth it provides us in our home. A large fir, fallen by a winter storm, became the beams of our meditation building.  A true gift of life.

I can go on and on about trees, about particular trees, like the unusually large and beautifully colorful Red Osier Dogwood out my window, or the wonderful pungent scent of fresh-cut Alder, or the little Grand Fir on the trail we have walked around and watched grow for decades, or about my cousin Shaun’s Oak Tree Restoration project on San Juan Island.  Like many residents on the ‘wet side’ of the Evergreen State, trees are omnipresent in my life.

If Arbor Day here in Washington passed you by, remember any day is a good day to plant a tree, care for a tree, hug a tree.  At the rate the world’s largest forests are being deforested, Morton’s idea to set aside a day to encourage the planting of trees has never been more relevant. If you join the National Arbor Foundation they will send you free seedlings to plant. If you are looking for some native trees to plant, we may have a few seedlings to share!

With enough moisture, Big Leaf Maple trees host moss, which in turn hosts young ferns, all under the protection of the huge tree branches with its umbrella canopy.

A wonderful book to read about one man’s passion for trees is My Life My Trees, written by Richard St. Barbe Baker, the “Tree Man”. The autobiography of this remarkable man, who inspired the founding of the Civil Conservation Corp, as well as organizations around the world for reforestation, is the story of a man who impacted the world one tree at a time, and by writing 30 books!

Another book I enjoyed reading is The Attentive Heart, Conversations with Trees by Stephanie Kaza. The author interweaves her personal biography and relationships with trees, giving voice to, and interesting information about, the trees.

Hare Hare Everywhere

Wishing a  beautiful, and hopefully sunny, Easter weekend to my blog friends.

I have quite a collection of bunny pictures. I call them bunnies, other folks call them rabbits, but it is the snowshoe hare who lives amongst us.  The legend of the Easter bunny is a story about a snowshoe hare.

Eostre, or Ostara, is the Germanic goddess (whence the word Easter is derived) of fertility (estrogen is also named after her). It is her job to bring spring to the cold wintry world, but one year she was late, which brought all kinds of havoc, including the near death of a small bird whose wings had frozen.  Eostre held the bird, bringing it back to life, then, since it couldn’t fly, turned it into a snowshoe hare and kept it as a pet, though some versions say it was her lover.  She named it Lepus (Lepus Americanus is the Latin name for snowshoe hares) and gave it the gift of laying colored eggs, to remind it of its bird origins. One day Eostre got upset with her hare and threw it into the sky, where it remains today as the constellation Lepus, lying at the feet of Orion the hunter (not a good place for a hare, or any animal).  Later Eostre soften a bit and allowed Lepus to come back to earth one day a year, in the spring, to lay his beautiful eggs. He would lay them in hidden places so they wouldn’t be found and eaten.  Eostre’s hare became Easter’s bunny, its eggs – Easter eggs, symbols of rebirth for spring rites, and looking for the hidden eggs became egg hunts and Easter baskets.  Or so the story goes.

I have great respect for goddesses, legends, and cultural traditions, but I like my hares plain and simple.  I find them quite magical just the way they are.  Unlike rabbits, whose babies are born with their eyes closed, ‘real’ hares not only don’t lay eggs, but give birth to babies with their eyes open, unique among the world of mammals.  Born fully furred and mobile, snowshoe hares venture out on their own very young.  Given their place in the food chain, it is remarkable any survive.  We once found a very tiny hare in our lawn, perhaps it had been grabbed, then dropped, by some predator.  It appeared to have a broken leg so we brought it in, raised it until it seemed healed, then released it.

young hare 'hiding' in dirt under our eave

Solitary young snowshoe hares hide in various places, coming together at mom’s to nurse several times a day.  At four weeks they are on their own.  Hare’s enjoy naps and dust baths, which may explain why the little one that showed up in our yard last year sat very still throughout the day in the dry dirt under the eave of our house.  Though not really hidden, it might have felt protected – being such a tiny fur ball, it blended into the rocky dirt.

it would come out to munch on rose leaves

So far no hares have arrived this spring. Unlike Eostre’s Lepus, they don’t necessarily appear at Easter.  The delightful weaving of pre-Christian symbols for renewal and rebirth with the Christian story of resurrection results in a season of optimism and new beginnings.  May your basket overflow with the blessings and hope of the season.

Shape Shifters

This morning I looked up from my computer and gazed out the window above my desk into the faces of deer coming down the path. This is not a common occurrence, only a few times have I seen a deer in our yard, and that was a very young solitary deer (I write about her in Critter Tales).  If I do see deer close to the house, which is rare, they are in the woods, just inside the protection of brush cover.

Slowly slipping out of my chair, I backed away from the window and moved to a smaller window out of their view. Even that slight movement caused ears to turn and caution flags to go up for all but one of the three deer.  She came further into the yard.  Most people do not relish deer in their yards, but I am a deer lover. I find their presence enchanting.

The deer who live in the woods around us are not the tame deer found in public parks like Hurricane Ridge, or in Port Townsend, where deer are so accustom to people you have to drive or walk around them.  These deer live a wild life, their survival depends not on human cultivated lawns and tender plants, but on being cautious and alert.  We once found the remains of a fresh cougar kill, including a hind leg ‘hidden’ under a fern for a later meal.

These deer are shape-shifters.  They move with careful deliberation and nimblness. They literally move between the small branches of Salmonberry and Thimbleberry, blending in and disguised by the interwoven web of branches.  If you see one and look away, you will not find it again.  In her book, The Hidden Life of Deer, author Elizabeth Marshall Thomas explains how deer know exactly how far to walk into the woods to blend in, they know the moment they disappear.

I had to be very quiet this morning. I tried to slowly open a window to take a picture, but the tiniest sound got attention, so I took pictures through the window. It is amazing to watch their bodies, their movements, even while being alert they are calm, moving with agility.  In the cold morning air and early sun I was spellbound watching them move with such grace.

The curious one in the yard ate some blackberry leaves then joined her companions in the brush between our yard and our little studio building further in the woods. I had to look hard to keep my eye on them, eventually I looked away, eventually they moved away, lost to my view as they merged into the woods.

later the does returned, though I had not seen them when I went for a walk in the woods. After watching one eat a few Rhody buds (so do squirrels!) I quietly walked out onto the porch. They looked up, paused a moment and quickly retreated.