Back to top

The thinking tree

October 9, 2018

Trees do much for the existence of life on our planet, and they are also a visible history of time. When we see a very large tree, such as this one, we know it has stood in its place for many years. This particular specimen is located in the Jelke Creek Bird Sanctuary, which is located near the villages of Sleepy Hollow and Dundee, Illinois. Although I have never accurately measured the tree, this past summer I wrapped my arms many times around the trunk and found it to be easily over 24 feet in circumference. 

I have experienced the four-and-a-half miles of pathways throughout the 232 acres of open space numerous times since it was opened to the public in 2010. In the heart of this area stands this massive tree. It is in a tucked-away spot and with the various elevations in the terrain it is not easily spotted until you are closer to the trail that leads you to it. The combination of the size of this enormous tree, the setting and location, and its presence in the landscape are all factors that brought me to dub it “The Thinking Tree” many walks ago. 

When you first see the amazing canopy in the distance, you realize something quite large looms ahead. As the trail winds closer, you can view its stout base, prominent canopy, sturdy limbs, and the sheer physical intensity of its existence. In all weather and seasons, this tree prompts me to pause and ponder on the lives it has touched over the decades of its tenure. Did it grow in this place on its on accord or was it purposefully placed in that location? Who found shade or shelter from it? What people may have designated it as a landmark in their travels? Were any of its natural materials ever used by people for fire, housing, or crafts? Who has found solace in the comfort of its presence? Has this tree been the witness of love and future commitment? Was it watching over a crime committed or a life lost?  I wonder about these things every visit I make there. 

My own life has its share of events that have brought me to this place. I’ve come to walk and with each step experience some “mental flossing” as the beauty and serenity of the sanctuary immerse me in its vistas and treats for the senses. The day this photo was taken this past summer, my dog Wilson and I were in need of some outdoor time. He paused on his own as the tree drew closer. It was as if he had to stop and think about what was ahead. He couldn’t tell me what he thought of the tree. It makes me think: if the tree could speak, what would it share?  

Find more stories in: