Bear with me, please: I’m off on yet another tangent and I ask your kind indulgence. The subject is trees. My dad loved his trees and I suppose, therefore, that there is something genetic about the love of trees because I love my trees, too.
Let’s talk about oak trees, those friendly stalwarts of the South Texas landscape. They live to an incredible old age and faithfully tolerate tire swings hung from limbs, small children climbing where their mother’s expressly forbade (as in, “Don’t you dare climb up that tree and if you do, I’ll kill you!”), the pure beauty of Christmas lights and piñatas and the indignity of generations of cats, squirrels, raccoons and dogs with a death wish clawing their way up the trunk. Standing close to an oak tree, you can’t help wonder how many people how long ago have enjoyed the beauty of this very tree. How many storms has it weathered, how many droughts have sent its roots ever deeper into the earth? How many generations of birds have called it home? This and more: have you ever noticed areas of worn bark about 4 feet up on oak trees? If the tree is very old, that comes from cows and horses rubbing against the tree, scratching what itches and smoothing the bark in the process.
Standing close to an oak tree, you can’t help wonder how many people how long ago have enjoyed the beauty of this very tree.
I grew up with oak trees and experienced their welcoming shade and shelter. There was no better place to be when one needed to ponder the deeply serious problems of adolescence than at the base of an oak tree. Being of Irish heritage, I was also pretty sure that “my oak trees” housed leprechauns in their roots. I remember that, during droughts, my dad would carry buckets of water from the barn to the trees to help them survive. In return, the oak trees gave my family never-failing beauty. Now I live in a neighborhood that was once an oak grove; this land was once on the banks of a creek and, historians say, was part of the ranch that was home to the vaqueros of the missions and their herds. There are huge oak trees lining our streets and gracing our yards and, yes, I’ve found the tell-tale signs of cattle and horses rubbing their imprints into the bark.
Developers tend to take down these wonderful, old trees and replace them with fast-growing intruders that can’t survive our climate for more than a few years. It will take much patience and probably many generations of homeowners to see the results of a new oak tree. That phrase doesn’t even look right; “new oak tree”? What’s that?
But I’m not done, you’ll be so very happy to know. Let’s talk laurels. We call them “mountain laurels” in these parts, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with mountains. Our treasured little laurel trees (aka, Sophora secundiflora) love our limestone-enriched soil and, with their wonderful flowers and scent, give us the hope of spring. My experience with laurels goes back a few generations (it’s the old DNA thing again). My grandmother planted laurels from seeds and nurtured them so that when I was a child, I knew them as a part of our home landscape. As an adult, I decided to buy a house on the basis of a 30-foot tall laurel growing in the front yard with a grove of her children nestled around her. (Did I mention that laurel trees are female?) I wasn’t as concerned about the stability of the home’s foundation or the beauty of its design, but it was love at first sight for that laurel tree. Years later, when I was terribly ill, I used to think that as long as that laurel tree was there to keep an eye on things, I would survive. It did and I did.
…when I was terribly ill, I used to think that as long as that laurel tree was there to keep an eye on things, I would survive. It did and I did.
There’s another feature of laurel trees that, if you didn’t grow up here, you may not know: laurel trees produce these beautiful bright red berries. They’re not edible – in fact, they’re poison – but if you are a mischievous child bent on revenge, you could take the berry, rub it vigorously on concrete (think sidewalk) and then apply it smartly to the arm of your big brother who had been bullying you. It burns like fury when properly prepared.
I haven’t even started on mesquite trees, pecans and chinaberries. Perhaps a later walk through the woods? But aren’t trees really incredible? Just think about it: shelter, beauty, sound, scent and a symbol of continuity and strength. Poems, music and art have all praised trees and with good reason: just like poems, music and art, trees are gifts to be treasured.
And speaking of treasures, there’s that music – you knew I’d get there, didn’t you? There are two glorious concerts remaining in this our 75th season: the American Brass Quintet (March 4th) and the Orion String Quartet (April 15th: at Laurel Heights United Methodist Church, don’t forget). We are not quite as old as my favorite oak trees, but with your continued support and attendance at these delightful concerts, we may just endure.
– E Doyle