Okay, so I’m deciding right here to make this my final post that features a view from my window! I mean, I’m hoping three prior squirrel-related posts wasn’t already excessive. And Dorothy’s sentiment in the Wizard of Oz movie is nice and everything – but I’ve now had three months to look for my heart’s desire in my own backyard, and I’m pret-ty sure it isn’t there!
In fairness though, my little nature view has really helped me feel less hemmed in during these Covid days. And turns out it’s held one more gift that will keep on giving in challenging days to come.
I’ve whiled away many a solitary, locked-down hour gazing at those trees just beyond the back wall, taking a sort of comfort in following the fauna they attract, and watching how they swirl and sway in deference to an afternoon breeze. And I’ve found myself wishing as I gaze – well, first off that my apartment would clean itself – but after that, wishing I’d taken greater advantage of having had a plant pathology professor for a father.
I didn’t care to make a career of studying forests as Dad did, but I still appreciate knowing what I’m enjoying the shade or beauty of. (I swear if I could, I’d require anyone growing crops visible from the road to post identifying signs as a courtesy to inquiring minds!) I’m sure Dad could have just glanced out the window and pegged every tree – as he could do, by the way, with every sort of work of art or poem, piece of classical music, or moment in world history! While I was growing up (and grown), Dad’s was a terrific knowledge base to tap – even when it skewed toward diseases in plants!
Mum tells me she discovered early on that saying “I do” to a Renaissance fungus fanatic meant saying “goodbye” to being able simply to remark full stop on the splendor of a forest. Because it was Dad’s vocation to examine trees for disease or bug damage or what-have-you, and to call it out.
Which. He. Would.
At times, Dad’s penchant for taking work home could be a buzz kill (“Well, it may look pretty, but that stand of conifers is riddled with fomes annosus!”). But it could also be quite handy. Like even though I knew the old “leaves of three, let it be” catch phrase for avoiding poison oak on a hike, it was still great when Dad was along to provide an instant ruling in case I was about to judge wrong.
Which. I. Could…
I remember another phrase Dad taught me for telling the difference between the similar looking ponderosa pine and Jeffrey pine (neither of which, to my barely-trained eye, appears to be outside my window). One contrast is the little barbs at the end of the – um, scales, I think they’re called – on their pinecones. The barbs face inward on Jeffrey pinecones while they stick out on ponderosas – hence, the hook (literally): “Gentle Jeffrey; prickly ponderosa.”
Arguably, a person could make it through life without grasping this distinction – but then again, it might prove the difference between winning and losing on a game show (“What is the ponderosa pine, Alex?”).
Okay, this hasn’t happened to me yet – but I’m so ready! And I did try once as a kid to use my insider plant knowledge to win over a fellow passenger on a boat. It should be said, the results were somewhat mixed…
The folks had taken me along on a driving trip to New Orleans where I remember being enchanted by new sights like the Mississippi River and the French Quarter and the bayous! There I discovered as Mum had that if I, say, remarked on the atmospheric beauty of the lacy Spanish moss that draped from bayou trees, I’d get Dad’s agreement – and I’d get the added bonus of a fact like its being a relative of the pineapple. Fair enough!
Later, Mum and I got to take a sightseeing cruise on the Mississippi while Dad was at a conference (the reason for the trip) – and as we glided along a tree-lined stretch of river, I took the opportunity to pay forward my tidbit of mossy wisdom to benefit the gentleman next to me. He didn’t seem at all impressed. Okay – fair enough, too. I downshifted into disappointed silence and went back to nibbling on my first ever sugary-sweet praline (flat globs of pure happiness, those things!).
Down the way, our boat captain came on the loud speaker to share some Louisiana historical and natural notes – including a certain fun fact about Spanish moss! As I recall, the double-take my neighbor gave me at that moment tasted pretty darn sweet too!
Even sweeter still is my recollection of Dad’s talk on the Tree of Heaven.
Seems people don’t always view this plant as especially “divine” since it can apparently be quite aggressive, and it attracts bugs that harm nearby plants and crops. Sorry about that, but my experiences with it have been nothing but charming!
I was introduced to it during a ramble around Ashland, Oregon where Dad, Mum and I met up yearly for the Shakespeare Festival. I’d remarked on what Dad promptly identified as a Tree of Heaven, and (wait for it!) he’d gone on to clarify that what I figured were stems on the tree were actually each technically a single “composite” leaf. Why is this fact memorable to me? I expect because next, Dad picked up one of these “leaves” and, preserving two leaflets at its base, ran his fingers along the stem – vvvrrrp! – to pop the rest of the leaflets off. This was how, he said, as a barefoot boy in The Dalles, Oregon, he’d fashion a sword to brandish as needed for a summer’s day of musketeering or buccaneering along the Columbia River.
Sadly, while the substance of many of Dad’s stories, talks and dinner napkin diagrams has fallen by the wayside of my memory, I’m grateful his Tree of Heaven tale – and his telling of it – survives! I’m always delighted too when it’s called to mind in the course of my travels:
I haven’t been traveling lately. But here’s the thing about that first Tree of Heaven pic above – it’s from right outside! Dad could have confirmed this of course, but it sure looks like a Tree of Heaven to me. And while doing my recent window gazing, I somehow only just noticed it was there.
Could it be a recent planting? Nope – a picture I took well over a decade ago (from about the same angle as the pic at the very top) confirms the tree was there even then:
It kind of amazes me that something could have been practically under my nose all this time and I didn’t realize it or didn’t let its significance sink in. Makes me wonder what else is going on around me that I haven’t truly seen…
As I said, it’s my plan to look other places than through my windows now for future postal inspiration – even though there’s always intriguing activity there!
But through these crazy days, I’ve come to know that just outside is a lovely living reminder of Dad. A dear guy who could impart wisdom, save trees – and instantly forge swords to carry on youthful quests for adventures and noble deeds!
Huh. Maybe Dorothy was onto something after all.
Cheers – and stay safe!