Talking Trees


Kay Olsen, former editor Flower & Garden magazine, once posed a risky question in her opening editorial: “What is my favorite kind of plant?” Ah ha, I thought, smelling instant controversy. Who will she offend most? The daylily defenders? The tomato supporters? The marigold mob? Even—gasp!—the rabid rosarians?

Then out from her horticultural hat, Kay picked an answer both surprising and superb:


I agree. I think that I shall never see a herbaceous perennial as lovely as a tree. Trees which in beauty herald the start and trumpet the end of the growing season. Trees which point from earth to heaven as surely as any church steeple. Trees, the patriarchs of plants.

You can feel the power and presence of trees. Enter any old-growth virgin forest. Visit trees at night, when their looming silhouettes exude stillness and strength. Hug a tree. I know that sounds hippie-dippy. The hunting lobby probably has a bumper sticker somewhere that says, “Have you teased a tree hugger today?” In truth, though, tree hugging is not just for New Age pantheists. After all, hunters falling out of deer blinds are quick to hug trees.

All right, all right, then how about this? Otto von Bismarck formed the German Empire in the 19th century through his military might and ruthless cunning. Bismarck was a serious tree hugger.

Sometime, pull an Otto yourself. Spend an hour—not five minutes—hugging trees. You’ll make some surprising discoveries, particularly if you hug both hardwood (deciduous) and softwood (evergreen) trees. (I won’t tell the difference you’ll find.)

In olden days, when trees were sacred, people honored them in pagan festivals. This time of year, we have our 21st-century substitute. Scallions of leaf-peeping tourist leave their concrete cities and drive into the mountains to gaze at the glorious colors of fall. Since I live where they come to, I sometimes resent their traffic-blocking, leaf-gawking ways.

But aren’t those metro migrants really pilgrims, travelers giving their respect and appreciation to the quiet, stalwart keepers of the earth: trees?

I just hope they take the time to get out of their cars, walk up to some trees, and let them know how they feel.

—By Pat Stone. Art by Linda Cook Devona