Last week I wrote about all the plants I ate when I was a kid, and that brought back other memories as well, memories of trees. Now I’m no tree hugger, and I’ve cut down my share of them in the past, but trees were an important part of my kiddom.
The first one I can remember stunk. That’s right. It was an unidentifiable tree on Philip Street in Dallas, right behind East Grand. That’s where we lived in a duplex from the time I hit the ground until I was five. We all have those earliest memories, and this particular recollection occurred when Mama went back to clean after everything was out of the house.
I went with her, probably standing up in the front seat (she’d hold her arm out when she braked to keep me from falling) and don’t recall anything about that day until we walked outside and she visited with a neighbor. Even then I knew I’d never be back there, so I went to my favorite tree on the parkway and took a good, long sniff of some kind of white parasite fungus…
…because it always made me gag and I liked it. So I gagged one last time, and we left.
Haven’t told my therapist about that one, yet.
We left the Stink Tree for a giant cottonwood in the back yard of the new house in Urbandale. I loved that one in the spring, because it threw off so much cotton that the back yard looked as if it’d snowed.
The Old Man hated it though, and after a few years, he got hold of it with a chainsaw and we had a nice cottonwood stump. It was a good place to play with my toy soldiers, until it rotted away.
On the other side of the fence in a neighbor’s yard was an apricot tree loaded with fruit. I ate early summer apricots ‘til the world looked level each year. I wonder if kids these days have the opportunity to pick their own apricots, plums and peaches and apples...
…a favorite tree recollection was an apple tree in my paternal grandparent’s yard. It leaned enough to make it easy to climb, and I doubt they ever got a ripe apple off of it, because we loved the green ones. Because of that particular tree, I still like half-ripe apples with a little salt.
That’s good, because it’s hard to find true tree-ripened fruit these days, even at the local farmer’s market.
Another apple tree growing in the corner of that same yard had to come down, maybe it was something else. I disremember. The Old Man, a couple of his brother-in-laws, and several grown cousins who were there that day decided to cut it down.
Unfortunately, it leaned toward the house, so there was a lot of country engineering involved, utilizing ropes, chains, trucks, knives and beer.
I was just out of high school that year, and had a Kodak Instamatic camera on hand. Enough “old folks” were there to help, so I stayed out of the process and documented the event. I must have been clicking fast, because we have a number of grainy photographs of kinfolk as they tied a rope to the tree, pulled it taut, and ordered a cousin to cut the rope as the tree toppled, because said rope was too short and someone estimated the top of the tree would strike the pickup bed as it fell.
The Old Man drove, my cousin Bo was the only one who’d cut the rope, the tree fell and landed in the ditch, and I have the photos to prove it. Nothing was injured but the dying tree itself.
Then there was the ancient oak growing behind the hay barn. Faithful readers might remember my discussions of that tree. All the soil had washed away from the roots, so the trunk actually began about two feet aboveground. It was hollow at the top, and all manner of chicken-thievin’ critters lived in there for a while
The last time I looked, and the tree is still there, the hole had grown closed. I bet that thing’s well over a hundred years old, and I hope it’s there long after I’m gone.
A red oak in the pasture was home to our treehouses, but lightning struck it and now that magnificent tree is nothing but a memory. Uncle cut it up for firewood, but claimed that lightning-struck wood wouldn’t burn hot enough to throw off heat.
You can believe that one if you want to.
Through the years, I’ve camped under some fine shade trees, cleaned birds under live oaks and red oaks, and floated down rivers through tunnels of shady limbs.
The Old Man loved camping in a pasture up on Boggy Bend, in Oklahoma. To get there we traversed gravel and dirt roads through leafy corridors that sometimes were the best parts of those camping trips.
I had one favorite pine tree up in the Grand Tetons that grew beside the perfect camping spot. From that vantage point, you could see the entire valley. I once spent a wonderful night sitting in a nylon tent as thunderstorms rolled across the horizon.
I wonder if it’s still there. Might have to check it out next summer.
Then there’s the old, ratty, scraggly bois-d-arc and a grove of tall hackberries shading the graves of my dogs, but those are sad stories, and we won’t go there this fine summer day.
Reavis Z. Wortham is an award-winning outdoor writer with family ties to Lamar County. He is the author of “Gold Dust.”