I have always felt a connection with old trees. I love to be in and among them whenever possible, and watch their transformation season to season. This deep reverence and love for trees goes back to my childhood.
My earliest memories were filled with huge Dutch Elms with blackish bark and branches that reached out over the old, worn, brick streets of another era that paved our neighborhood. So thick in the summertime, their leaves provided an umbrella for us rain or shine.
Those old trees all died out with Dutch Elm disease in the late 1970's in Kansas. We suffered the devastating loss of hundreds of big old gorgeous trees, and it completely transformed our neighborhood. The light changed. Autumn didn't have the piles of golden leaves anymore. Spring didn't smell the same. Walks became less magical, more ordinary.
As a child, it seemed impossible that these giants would somehow fall. The sweeping, rapid loss of all those trees has always stayed with me, and today, 40 years later, when I go back to that neighborhood and see the Sweet Gums, Sugar Maples and Pin Oaks that replaced those sacred Elms, I still see them as imposters!
We moved shortly after that further out of town and I became acquainted with the enormous Cottonwoods and their shimmering leaves and rough, grey bark. They were companions of my brother's and mine. Days of swinging over creeks, reading in their branches, picnicking underneath the giant's shade with our lunchboxes.
Unfortunately, after my brother and I grew up and moved away, those ancient trees were cut down for a new development. As if they weren't even living or useful or loved. As if they hadn't lived a thousand lives. As if they were not holy things. An afterthought to clear out for something new.
So I look for them. Old, lovely, twisted, characters that have lived a full life. This one is an old beauty in Forest Park in St. Louis.
A Sycamore that probably witnessed the 1904 World's Fair held in the park as a gangly seedling, trying to survive among the chaos that must have been happening as thousands embarked on the grounds. Absorbing the construction, noise, people and activity.
As decades passed, it witnessed couples on first dates, mothers pushing baby carriages, bicycle races, children flying kites, and days of sledding and bonfires up on Art Hill.
I like to think a tree absorbs all of the beauty around it as it grows. Its color and composition nuanced with the squeals of children's laughter, the hushed conversation of an evening walk, even the sound of horses pulling wagons by in the early days.
As it grew, the strong tree provided branches for children to climb in, hidden places for birds to nest, a playground for squirrels and shade for picnics on hot days.
The old tree stood strong through wind and lightening, freezing snow and ice, and the blistering hot humid days of a St. Louis summer.
It became a refuge in old age, and having reached the fullness of it's maturity, it simply resonates with life.