My Summer Tree Mission

“Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but not so interesting as looking.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.

I grew up in Southern California — basically a desert. I moved away in high school; then when I returned I found that I missed the trees here in the midwest and south.

I spend a few hours in Cherokee Park every week, mountain biking and trail running. I have favorite trees and plants throughout the park, that I notice time and again when I’m out on the trails. I love watching them return to life each spring. I love looking how their dense, lush foilage makes Cherokee seem like a jungle in the summer. Then autumn arrives with it’s rich hues, and winter exposes everything, so you can see long distances through the trees and tell that you’re in an urban park.

But now I want to take this experience to the next level. I have a hard time remembering the names of trees, birds and plants so before I get too old to remember anything I want to memorize a dozen trees, a dozen plants and a dozen birds that inhabit Cherokee. Do any of you nature lovers have suggestions for me?

My inspiration and “guide” right now are two books. I know — surprising, right? It’s always books with me. Reading helps us to reframe our experience and to know things more fully than if we simply observe. For example it may seem weird to read a book on marriage but it allows us to reflect and reframe our own marriages. So my “guides” in learning the names and characteristics of trees are:

The Life And Love Of Trees by Lewis Blackwell 

This is basically a coffee table book, with fascinating pictures. “In breathtaking photographs and stories we are taken on a journey from the boreal forest at the edge of the Arctic to the rainforests girdling the planet; from ancient bristlecones to fresh-leaved seedlings; from the charming and familiar to the scary and rare.”

Seeing Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo and Robert Llewellyn

This review says it all: “Focusing on widely grown trees, this captivating book describes the rewards of careful and regular tree viewing, outlines strategies for improving your observations, and describes some of the most visually interesting tree structures, including leaves, flowers, buds, leaf scars, twigs, and bark. In-depth profiles of ten familiar species – including such beloved trees as white oak, southern magnolia, white pine, and tulip poplar – show you how to recognize and understand many of their most compelling (but usually overlooked) features.”

Speaking of books, you’ve probably noticed that trees play prominent roles in the Bible, from the Garden of Eden to the cross, to the Tree of Life in Revelation. According to another of my favorite books, The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, trees are images of providence in a two fold sense, they remind us of God’s provision, and they communicate abundance (because trees were scarce in Bible lands).

  • Any advice for helping me memorize the names and properties of trees?


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10 Responses to “My Summer Tree Mission”

  1. Ricky Love June 5, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    Collect leaves and try to determine what trees they come from via tree indentification websites…lol.

  2. Kyle June 5, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    Audubon is always a quick go to for these types of things. They have been doing for a long time! They have books for trees, birds, and plants.
    One suggestion is to find a book that shows examples of trees in both summer and winter. Identification by leaf is fairly simple to learn. But that is of no use for half the year!
    When ever I get these types of feelings, as you are, I feel reading a few pages of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac seems to scratch the itch nicely!
    Good luck! This is one of those things I wish I had spent more time learning from my grandfather!

  3. Linda Stepp June 5, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    Admitted tree geek here… the best sources are seeing and experiencing them close up… not books. Knowing the leaves, the bark and the smell will help lock them into your memory.
    Cemeteries and some private parks have many trees labeled by their biological name and common name. I would recommend choosing something that makes sense, like be able to identify all the trees that are used in items in your home, or natural products you use. Perhaps a category like, hardwoods, or ones used for medicinal purposes, etc.

    • Daniel Montgomery June 6, 2012 at 1:12 am #

      Great suggestions Linda. Thanks!

  4. Jason Spencer June 5, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    Check out this article from Huntington Post – it reviews an app called Leafsnap to identify trees

  5. Suzanne June 6, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    I have a few books if needed. As long as I get them back.
    Go to Cave hill, all the trees are identified. Certain trees grow in certain habitats, ie red maple, sycamore, swamp white oak, ironwood, all like water. Chincapin oak, tulip poplar – not so much. Redbud, dogwood, umbrella magnolia, understory. Learn a characteristic about each, and you can idea them.

    • Daniel Montgomery June 14, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

      Thanks for the suggestions Suzanne. What books do you have? I can just pick them up?

  6. Mike Schuetz June 6, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    I have a similar problem with memorizing and categorizing nature. The only thing that has helped me so far is actually owning and tending the species in question. I could never identify any garden vegetables in my Grandpa’s large garden until I planted my own and started caring for it. Perhaps you could plant and care for a few different trees? An Italian proverb says, “you’re not a man until you father a child, write a book, and plant a tree.”

    For a mathematical side-project regarding tree shapes check out some internet articles on “fractals.”

  7. David Sorell June 7, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    Daniel, Two good books are Sibley’s Guide to Trees, and Guide to Eastern birds. There are also laminated guides to common birds and trees avialable at local book stores that fold like a legal letter that could go with you trail running etc.

    • Daniel Montgomery June 14, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

      Thanks David

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