I love trees. I have 37 trees on my half acre lot in Wheaton and I planted 35 of them over the years. I have Maples, Oaks, Pines, Bald Cyprus, Honey Locust, Ginkgo, Linden, Redbuds, Yews, Boxwoods, Fringe, Tricolor Beech, and a five- in-one grafted Apple tree, but one tree is an even more special miracle to me.
You might think I am overcompensating with all these trees if you knew of a job I had in the late 1960s cutting down trees, but no. Those were diseased Dutch Elm trees and we were trying to halt the spread of that Elm plague. Trees are endangered by climate, pollution, pests, and disease. We are lucky certain trees have survived all that and more. Sometimes it is miraculous that they made it at all.
All these trees have meaning to me. For example, a Pin Oak shielded my son's hot bedroom in the summer and since it keeps its leaves all winter, it also protected his corner room from winter winds. Other trees filter and shade the sunlight on my screen room. Some of my trees harbor a white-tailed hawk and others protect hummingbirds, cardinals, woodpeckers, blue jays and more. Some trees provide spectacular fall color and others, laced with snow, provide a wintery scene with crystal-like refraction of light from icy blanketed limbs. While all the trees freshen the air and provide a degree of privacy, one tree is most special to me.
How could I get a child to love trees the way I do? How do we pass on the value of trees to another generation? How do you make trees special to the young? Well, you start small with one tree. One scrawny little tree.
When my three-year-old grand-daughter, Violet, visited from California two years ago, I decided to plant that "seed", so to speak. Together we planted a Dawn Redwood, a tree similar to the redwoods in a park near her home, and one that I had purchased at the Morton Arboretum Plant sale the week before. Now, nearly every time we FaceTime on my smart phone, my granddaughter asks, "How is my tree doing"? Then I run outside with my phone to show her and then she skips over cheerfully to her parents exclaiming, "Mom, Dad, look at my tree. See how big it is?” Violet is getting bigger too with long, tree-like limbs.
At age five she doesn't know what a miracle a Dawn Redwood is. She doesn't know the Dawn Redwood is a tree that dates back to the era of dinosaurs and was thought to be extinct, but was miraculously found in a remote part of China to be preserved and saved for us. She doesn't know that this miraculous tree is deciduous, unlike those redwoods in her neighborhood. She does know that planting a tree with grandpa and watching it grow and thrive is a miracle in itself.
Next time she visits, I will take her to the top of Frost Hill at the Arboretum and show her what mature Dawn Redwoods look like. That is the story of my, scratch that, actually, the story of our favorite, miracle tree.