In Praise of Trees

We put a high price on rarity, but often it’s the common things that are most important.

Craig Axford

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Photo by author. Sooke Hills, Vancouver Island

For me, it was the maple in our backyard in Provo, Utah that first gained my appreciation. It stood solitary and tall in the northwest corner of the yard. From there it could cast a lengthening shadow across the lawn that enabled both play and relaxation in the afternoon, even on the hottest summer days.

Mother always had reclining beach chairs for people to stretch out on set up beneath its branches. From there family and guests could sit and take in the mountains to the east while the sun moved slowly away on the other side of the leafy canopy towering overhead.

The maple had been there when we moved in. We could only guess at its age, but to me it seemed ancient. It was clearly not as old as the giant maple in grandma’s yard back in New England. That tree had a swing hanging from its lowest branch and in the summer gave the impression of standing beneath a massive deep green dome lifted heavenward by a dark crooked scaffolding.

Its western counterpart was a different species with much paler bark. It grew taller and skinnier than grandmother’s tree, with branches that were strong enough for climbing but started too low for a good swing. Like just about every maple growing within Provo’s city limits, it was not native to the region and might have had a chance at becoming a tree suitable for a swing if the air and soil had been a bit damper.

My grandmother’s tree should have been the one that made the more powerful impression on me at first, but I was too young, and it was too familiar. Grammy’s two acres had several maple trees, and oak too, as I recall. In addition, there were pine trees dotting the grass and a forest beyond them on the other side of the fence opposite the road where we pulled onto her driveway. More of her lot was shaded than not.

But for shade out west, we were completely dependent on our solitary maple. I loved it in the summer. Later, when my mother felt I was old enough to handle a rake, I dreaded it in the autumn. The maple would drop at least two dozen large garbage bags full of leaves before all was said and done. Whereas grandma would simply leave many of the leaves where they fell, at least…

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Craig Axford

M.A. in Environment and Management and undergraduate degrees in Anthropology & Environmental Studies. Living in Moab, Utah. A generalist, not a specialist.