Tag Archives: trees

Forever Amber

Throughout the temperate climates there are trees that hold on to their spring and summer greens throughout the later, demanding months.  They wear them as stubbornly and foolishly as one who wears a favorite coat in July or refuses to take an umbrella into the rain.  They live their evergreen lives eternally, proud of their verdant blood and the succulent life that will not blink in the face of the shifting seasons.

But there are some trees that pay attention:  to the altering temperatures, to the shadows that lengthen before noon, to the greedy night – Nature’s subtle hints that it is time to change.   Their leaves become melting prisms, with colors that undulate and flow:  creating microcosms of sunsets within a dying morphology.  Garnet, ginger, bronze and scarlet, they are as pure and fluid as the stained colors in cathedral glass.  The tints of Chartres, Notre Dame, Cologne are reflected in their autumnal DNA.   The air is bright with their departure; the earth and streets are crisp with the trees’ brittle sacrifices.

In the mid-17th century, Spanish naturalists stumbling through the Americas took note of a pretty tree with leafs shaped like clipped stars and a clear, perfumed gum that looked like liquid amber.


350 years later their happy discovery is alive still, in backyards and cities, celebrating the cyclical weather, the migratory temperatures.


Liquidambar styraciflua is known for its fluid colors and fragrant liquor.  It bleeds a clear or tinted resin reminiscent of the musky scent of burning amber.  This aromatic hemorrhage is what gives the tree its name.

The Amber’s round seed pods create sheet-music when superimposed against telephone lines.  Its roots are discreet.  Sidewalks do not buckle or erupt into mountain ranges that wait for pedestrians to stumble over, like unsuspecting gods.

It is used for decoration; above succulents and firs, cedar, oak and spruce its colors wink with whimsical flamboyance.  During the summer its canopy is lush with green youth.  By year’s end breezes rustle the crisp leaves like a mother running her fingers through her child’s tousled hair.

It drinks from the subterranean rivers that tumble through the earth in a web of fertile tributaries.  The green elixir permeates the body of the tree, creating an ornament that glories in the year and celebrates the four changing quarters.  It is a reminder of the comfort of change; the knowledge that beauty does not end but renews itself in perpetual rebirths:  that it lasts forever.



The Weary Star

During the summer, the sun is overpowering, a symbol of Helios’ consuming appetite.  But with that power also comes weariness – the fatigue of long days spent at the very top of the sky’s blue ceiling.  During the processional of the mid-year equinox, all clouds and jet streams, every particle of astral dust is consumed in its muscular ascent.  Proud of its solstice, the sun is enthroned in the shapely air:   a fearsome, melting star.

Throughout the span of each still, expansive day, the sun spends its lengthy rule exerting its strength: bleaching cities, making populations sweat.  Beating landscapes into submission, warming oceans until their kelp forests become a frenzy of photosynthesis:  it bends its searing gaze onto a lethargic world.

But with dusk’s beckoning coolness, the sun begins to sink.  It falls into a horizon that is as rich as a courtesan’s bed, soft and full of decadent color:  lavender and tangerine; burgandy and amethyst.  The sun longs to sink into its blushing resting place.

Setting slowly, its blaze changes gradually during its subtle fall.  Its light is a world of alchemy, an equation that will create a sky of liquid gold.    The gilded profile illuminates coasts and countries and plunges behind buildings and trees.

But I think I have seen the sun in repose.

It was dusk, when shadows were stretched and capricious; when light had reached its mid-year richness.  I passed by a tree, already in the shade, and saw rays of heat drenching its dark branches.  At the top of its trunk, I saw a blazing apparition – stationary, yet still able to drench its resting place with a dazzling, white energy.  It seemed to me as if the weary star had thought to stop, to rest its tired body amongst the comfortable leaves.

I don’t know how long the tree bore its bright weight.  Many hours, surely – for it was some time before I felt the air become cold and dark.  What did the tree receive for its patience?  Perhaps the sunlight penetrated its skin, illuminating its chlorophyll…and next spring, when the tree blooms once more it will be radiant, as each gilded leaf uncurls, full of the living memory of the star that had come to rest.

The Sun Tree

A Tree Grows In My Apartment

It was given to me as a gift. Fragrant of the forest and Christmas, it was sprinkled with silver glitter – like a handful of stars trapped in a green, earthy sky. I was immediately taken with its symbolism, its mysterious life, its small and delicate perfection.

For weeks I kept it at work: a pretty accompaniment that countered the surrounding electricity and stress with its quiet growth and perennial tranquility. But eventually I felt it was time to bring it home. It is a chilly and dark walk home during those ending months, so I felt obligated to hold it close – this emerald hatchling unused to the provoking cold.

Once home, I placed it by the brightest window, soon noticed that it was leaning away from the light, like a spoiled child turning from a carefully prepared meal. Perhaps the sun was an insult to its shadowy past, a life nestled in the myth and darkness of the woods.

A Bed Of Roses

To add to my little tree’s alarm, I re-potted it. Its roots were balled and tangled like a fist in its old home, and I could hear it knocking to get out. But I fear it went into shock – it started to look gaunt, and began weeping tiny green needles into the brand new soil.

That was about a month ago. The tree maintains its stubborn tiny-ness, despite the somewhat breathless claims on its birth tag that it could very possibly grow to 13 feet tall. It continues to live, without doing anything as vulgar as thrive. Out of politeness, it does not flourish.

But now it’s raining; the raindrops are bouncing off the ground with a quick and liquid velocity. Perhaps my little tree will recognize this dark weather and reach towards the soft, gray air in a sudden burst of sentimentality.


A Galaxy Unraveling

Walking to work, I saw a very peculiar thing on the sidewalk.  Its color was soft and meek:  a whimsical fluff, a piece of delicate detritus which had somehow lost its way and now lay defenseless on the granite causeway.

What was it?

I couldn't pass it by – it was too bizarre, too exquisite, to ignore.  It looked at first like a mass of grounded feathers, a detached wing, having somehow come to grief in a garish and unidentified battle.  I peered closer closer, and the feathers because an explosion of silky fibers, and the wing opened into a seed pod, split and exposing a galaxy of birth, unraveling at my feet.

Its job was almost complete – only one seed remained. 

Inside the barren husk, flights of fancy cast about the milky depths.  I saw threads light enough to have burst from a captive princess' spinning wheel, sheer enough to embroider a satin bodice.  They had loosed their future generations on the wind, bound for nurseries unknown.

I saw sparks of light in the constellation of strands – electric, white-hot filaments creating a grid of vibrant synapses.  The finely spun froth seemed destined to melt, like fishes' breath rising from the waves.  And yet, for all the life the life I saw inside this discarded shell, this was a dead thing.

I picked it up carefully, cradling it against the intrusive breezes, emboldened by the onrush of Spring.  I carried it to work and once there brought it to my desk, where I could further admire it.  But perhaps my admiration was shelfish; perhaps I should have left it outside, where it would have dissolved into Nature's graveyard, a part of the greening of her most precious jewel.

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There's a tree that I notice every morning, because it takes pity on me.  During the autumn days it murders its chlorophyll for me and lets its cadaver leaves turn red and yellow.

Because it knows that I'd prefer it, this tree will let those crisp leaves fly – although there is no breeze to lead them on a wintry dance.  And when they reach the ground, they weave a starry carpet for me to walk on.

This sympathetic tree colors itself cranberry, pumpkin, ginger and cinnamon – the scents of a harvest kitchen.  It must be difficult – and a little heart-breaking – to voluntarily drain the life out of its green blood, but I find its efforts rather touching.  It stands alone amongst its vibrant neighbors and is not ashamed to lift its rebellious head to the censorious sun.

There is much that this tree has sacrificed:  the living filigree of veins in its arms and fingers, the web of nerves in every limb – enabling it to feel every creature that visited its arboreal dark – the shine of perennial youth.  All this it relinquished so that I could imagine its life on chilly acreages and forget the audacious growh all around me.


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Squirrels Don’t Get Me

I mean well.  It's true that I don't speak Rodentia, but my attempts at communication are frequent and sincere.  I like squirrels.  I'm not like my mother. ("They're taking over the city!")

There are some very fortunate trees in front of my workplace; they act as arboreal condos for many handsome squirrels.  There have been occasions when I would take a look at these trees – out of gratitude for their dark shelter on a summer's day, to see if their leaves finally decided to defy Nature and change color, to admire the lovely sculpture of their bark.

The last time I took this opportunity, I saw something else…a puff of black-tipped fur from behind the trunk; suddenly there and then just as swiftly gone.  I slowly traversed the circumference of the tree and came face to face with a gray and tan squirrel, with a plump, harvest-season figure.  I asked it several pertinent questions:  "Hiya Squirrlie!  Whatcha doing?", "Whatcha doing up there?"

We stared at each other, in such a way that I knew it saw my face, wondered what I was, why I didn't have anything intelligent to say, and whether if had any nuts to offer (I didn't).  This visual consideration lasted several seconds – it was only then that it decided to be frightened and I heard its tiny claws rattle on the bark as it scurried upwards.

It stopped.  It wagged its tail – in farewell?  And then it disappeared into the branches.

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