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Keepers of the Giants

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Now that it's thoroughly, awfully, evenly gray here in Ohio, I need to go back to a golden fall day in Cambridge, and some photos I squirreled away for just such a weepy day.

In a place that's been settled for as long as Cambridge has (try 1631) there are some pretty darned impressive trees. Trees that have been there much longer than the houses have, and the houses have been there a long time.  Here's a glorious American elm, still hanging on to vibrant life. Right next door to the beech I'm about to feature, in fact.

Hodge thinks there should be some kind of historic treasure designation for many of Cambridge's arboreal giants. I agree. She took me to the spot on Brattle Street where a homeowner had cut down the perfectly healthy twin of a massive beech still standing in the yard. I couldn't comprehend what would move someone to do that to such a gigantic tree. But then again I am not living under such a gigantic tree. Lack of sunlight in summer? Branches crashing onto the roof? I suppose there was a reason, but I couldn't bring myself to photograph the enormous disc of healthy white wood, flush to the ground, which is all that remains of what was once a glorious beech.

As medicine, we visited a beech that is appreciated, that comes as part and parcel with the house and is equal stature.

Its branches gracefully arch over the lawn, sensibly covered with broad-leaved groundcover since grasses don't much like growing under beeches. In some places the branches scrape the ground and rise up again.

Hodge would be the best Keeper of the Trees I can imagine. I think Cambridge should create an office for her. She could go around designating the Ones Who Must Not Be Cut.

the same mighty monarch, at a distance.

I don't think I was imagining the faces in its nearly pristine bark.  A bit scary, upon closer inspection. We found only one small set of initials carved into it--something worth remarking upon in an urban area, where beeches are virtually all horribly scarred by those seeking a piece of posterity in this act of vandalism.

Whaddya think you're doin' with those apples? 

At this, Hodge and I launched into the scene from The Wizard of Oz where Ray Bolger says, "Come on, Dorothy. We wouldn't want to eat THOSE apples anyway. They're full of little green WORMS"

and the apple trees start winding up, lifting kneelike roots and throwing apples at Ray and Judy as they run down the Yellow Brick Road.

Speaking of Oz, the home that accompanies this magnificent tree fits it perfectly.

Thank you to the homeowners who maintain these islands of beauty and serenity, these sanctuaries for giant trees. You are the Keepers of the Giants.


Julie, When you are next in the Boston area you must visit "the droopies" as they are fondly called by kids in Brookline. In an old Boston Brahmin neighborhood a small mall is host to many very old stately beeches. It shares the qualities you so revere in that Cambridge neighborhood. Thank you for this morning stroll with you and your friend.

You have to drive miles around here to find a old growth anything. We so value the old live oaks and pecans (even the occasional pine) when we go to North Florida. The Gold Coast is a wasteland, except for a few tiny, old residential areas and a couple of parks. Oddly, some of the oldest trees in this area are little scrub live oaks about 10 feet tall, in a few minute remnants of the once common Florida scrub habitat.

I know of one standing oak in Florida that's about 800 years old. It had the good luck to be in an area designated as the state's first park, back in the '30's. Otherwise I'm sure a developer would have voted in favor of a trailer park or other ticky-tack.

Boy, do I want OUT of here! If it weren't for Shel's practice...

It should be possible. Here in Portland we have a Heritage Tree program and just about any time you see a truly breathtaking tree you can find a bronze plaque on it telling you what it is. (In case you're not traveling with Julie.) And you already have a Keeper, so...maybe some such thing could be suggested!

Here's a link to the Heritage Tree program.

I hate to see anybody cut a healthy majestic tree.I have a large beech in my back yard. One thing you might notice is squirrels cannot climb the tree trunk...they must jump on the lower branches to get into the tree to eat the beech mash. Guess its too slippery for them.

I have *never* noticed that, Jean! Wow! That is mighty slick bark, I'll say that.

Murre, thanks for the link to the Heritage Tree Program. Hodge needs more things to do. I'm gonna sign her up.

On our walks, always longer on weekends, my dad and I used to visit a huge beech on the campus of Penn Charter, a Quaker school. Several branches were low enough to climb on and ride like a horse, bouncing lightly. I loved that tree. I went back a few years ago to visit it, but it was gone.

Oh, my, dear JZ, what a wonderful Christmas gift! I feel like I need to pay it forward--maybe by slipping a note through the mail slot of the owners of that glorious specimen beech, complete with your JZ blog address, to let them know how grateful we are.

Amusingly, sort of...not long after you and I took this walk, my car got stolen out of my driveway. Whoever took it (some long-legged beast who prefers hip-hop to NPR likes to drive with the sun roof open) realized, probably after about two minutes, that playing real life Grand Theft Auto was an exceedingly bad idea. So he/they beached it. Guess where? Right around the corner from that glorious beech tree, where it sat for two weeks, until it got towed for street cleaning.

The whole ordeal was a complete pain, but I can't help but love the kismet of my car waiting out its exile near the tree that comes as close to religion as I get.

And yes, I know those droopy beeches in Brookline--they are definitely worth a visit.


Dreary in Ohio, and dreary here in Oregon as well. Thanks for the sunny day visit--and thank goodness for the solstice!

Hope your holidays are great! Thanks for your great blog! It often makes my day, even when it makes me cry.

Diane soucy

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