Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tree Man

Today we are celebrating my father's 70th birthday.  It'll be a big party with lots of family and friends.  One thing my father taught me was a love of trees.  I come by this horticulture bug quite naturally.  Dad would take the family and the dog out on hikes at the local forest preserves and the arboretum most weekends.  We lived only a few blocks from a large forest with extensive trails for hiking and biking.  Dad worked in construction and would often tote home logs for the fireplace if the project required tree removal.  In our own yard, he's planted many many trees through the almost 40 years in the house.  The parkway trees have changed from a lone large ash to a maple and a pear, both of which are looking dodgy.  The front yard is graced by a crimson maple the folks planted when they first moved in.  As a kid we had a huge crabapple on the corner of the house right outside my bedroom window.  I adored it.  It had white fragrant flowers and apples big enough that Mom made jelly out of them now and again.  Of course it eventually succumbed to apple scab and so Dad replaced it with a hedge maple. 

The backyard trees are doing their best to kill the lawn.  These are his pride and joy.  There's the American elm that was planted when they moved in and has toughed it out through Dutch elm disease all over the village.  The spruces offer cover for birds and screening from the neighbors. The katsura is coming along nicely, now that an ash is gone.  There's even a swamp white oak sapling in the back corner that he started.  However, above all of these is Dad's pride and joy - the shagbark hickory he raised from a nut.  Now it hasn't quite started to shag yet, but it does produce a handful of nuts much to the squirrels' delight.  It also gets a couple of hickory pests and diseases, so, well, it's a little wonky.  The trunk has some kinks from losing the leader, but the tree still grows like crazy.  I think Dad calls the Morton Arboretum plant clinic each year with an update on what attacks it.  The shagbark just shrugs it off and keeps on going.  My brother and I think it might be his third child.

So today, I remember climbing all the trees on our block I could get into.  I remember Dad pointing out the magnificent oaks in the forest preserves.  I remember him planting a bur oak at grandma's house and an Accolade elm because she needed some trees on her rather barren patch.  My uncles have trees from Dad as well as neighbors and friends.  We have discussions on pruning and this Thanksgiving we spent an hour with the ladder and the pruning saw, taking the katsura off the garage roof. The latest challenge is finding a home for a black walnut sapling that appeared in the compost pile.  It's already survived some rabbit pruning and I think I may have found someone who will plant it and love it, just not as much as Dad.

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