When I get home after work, I head right outside. Everything is budding up now, from my giant maple on down. It is plenty warm enough to be outside-what could be better? The deep clear blue evening sky is a perfect foil the chartreuse flowers now in full bloom on said Norway maple. Acer Platanoides can grow to fifty feet; I estimate mine is close to forty feet high. The deep furrows on the bark that bear the scars of Milo’s frustrated attempts to climb up and after after the squirrels that torment him- another clue to its age. The Norways have the most beautiful of all the maple flowers. Arranged in three inch diameter clusters on the stems, their color is electrically charged living spring green. This old tree has been president and chief executive officer of my fountain garden since I moved here fifteen years ago. Its surface rooting and shade make it the organizing metaphor of everything trying to grow underneath it. It is a water hog; on a hot day in July, it probably takes up 90 gallons. Much of what goes on in the growing world cannot be visually detected; a lot of the action is underground. Plants of this scale dramatically influence the world around them. You might think of them as an ecosystem unto themselves- when you plan to garden in their vicinity. This effort will help you be a more successful gardener, on the ground.
Giant old trees have been photographed, written about, preserved and revered in landscapes all over the planet. The redwoods in California are the stuff of legends. Giant trees are home to all manner of wildlife-our native American bald eagles nest high off the ground. Vicious weather that took down great numbers of old trees in England some years back-big news. Some of the great old trees in my greater community live on in old cemeteries. Should I ever retire, I would want to visit and study the landscapes in old cemeteries, in neighborhoods-for what grows there- undisturbed. Though I have made a career of churning up and remaking, I have a great respect for that which has been left alone to age beautifully.
I live on a corner in an urban neighborhood. I have a number of Norway maples planted in the right of way-that strip between the sidewalk and the road. They are struggling; it is a heartbreak to watch. My city does not care for them. They do not prune; nature prunes them via ice storms and high winds. They do not treat illness. I see some people in my neighborhood caring for their row trees-I thank them every time I drive by their houses. I have one Norway with astonishingly large bracket fungus; these fruiting bodies-the physical evidence of a massive fungal infection, are a sign its life will not be long now. The roots of all of these giant trees are dogged by concrete as far as the eye can see. But they live on, no matter how injured they might be from physical damage, neglect, or thoughtless planting or placement. I so admire their steel. Their will to live is a very beautiful thing to witness.
I live in an old neighborhood-many of the houses were built between 1920 and 1930. My house is 80 years old this year. There are trees of age here, there, and all over my neighborhood. The most beautiful saucer magnolias I have ever had the privilege to see are right around the block from me. The Norway maple in my back yard-old. I don’t disturb it much. I do see that it gets water in dry spells, and pruning when it needs it. I do not do much, but it greatly endows and enriches my gardening life. It screens my view of both my neighbors houses, and our community electric lines, to the rear. It encourages me to turn my eyes to the sky in the spring. The corgis love the shade in the heat of the summer. It is a most stately and beautiful plant. The largest in my yard. It oversees plenty, silently, benignly. It has yet to whine, fuss, negotiate, or hold forth. It roots vigorously and thickly in one small spot that I plant with annuals every year-this does not mean we have a battle; we have a yearly conversation.
My eyes turn towards the skies in late April-I would not want to miss the Norway maple, blooming. My skies have other residents, besides those topmost maple branches, blooming. The birds are back, and flying. Last night, I had my camera pointed skyward. Streaking across my lens, a mini jet. Buck and I talk about that plane. Who is on board? Where are they going-or from whence are they returning? Buck’s take-a captain of industry is travelling. Who are the captains of industry? No doubt, I believe I live in the best country on the planet. My country welcomes, houses, and protects a most intelligent, imaginative, loyal, hardworking and outspoken group of people from sea to shining sea. Those captains of industry-those people that organize, energize, imagine, invent, create,and protect-I imagine those people that are flying headlong across my sky on a Saturday night.
Like those giant trees who bear this wind, that infection-the daily give and take-I greatly admire the captains of industry. There are those people that organize a space, preside over an eco-system, think through how to help people with serious illness. They put people to work. They greet the future with a vision. They are tireless, incredibly intelligent, and driven by what they believe in. They work around the clock. They think through and travel ahead of time. I would not want to do without them any more than I would want to do without my big maple.
Travelling overhead last night-whoever you are-many thanks.