News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Trees I have known and loved

Growing up in Portland, our house was located on an acre-and-a-quarter lot outside the city on a two-lane road that received so little traffic I could safely ride my bike on the road.

The road had giant fir trees on both sides with houses nestled into the trees. Behind our house was what I have always called “the hundred-acre woods.” The actual number of acres I don’t know, but the woods covered a huge hillside with a large field of blackberry bushes, trails, and a stream.

I made multiple forts among the trees with moss, ferns, and fir boughs lining the floor. I dammed and undammed the creek which was named by me for our family. The blackberries were plentiful every summer, warm and juicy as we picked them, ate some, and took the rest home for jam and pies.

That forested landscape is where my love affair with trees, and nature in general, began. Concurrently, I fell in love with the apple and pear trees that surrounded our house, heavy each fall with Gravenstein, king, and transparent apples and Bartlett pears. If I remember correctly, we had a few more than a dozen trees. The Gravenstein tree near the driveway was my favorite for climbing because one of its main branches grew up and off to one side, providing a perfect perch where I could sit and think, unseen by others.

My dad loved and cared for all those fruit trees for all my years of growing up and after I went off to college. They were old trees that had been originally planted by the family who first lived in our house. My parents bought that house and lot in the 1940s and we didn’t sell it until both my parents were deceased.

I remember the pink and white blossoms that perfumed our yard each spring. We sold boxes of apples along the side of the road in front of our house. We had apple fights and occasionally lobbed them over the tall cedar hedge to see how close we could come to cars without hitting them. And our winter larder was always full of canned applesauce and pears.

Throughout my growing up, trees provided secret hiding places, beauty, play areas, nourishment and bounty for some mischief. By the time I left for college, trees and I had a deeply rooted relationship which has continued throughout my life.

While writing this column, I realized I have never lived anywhere that was not graced by the presence of trees. Up until 17 years ago, I lived west of the Cascades, both in the Willamette Valley/Portland and in the greater Seattle area. I have always been surrounded by evergreens — fir, hemlock, spruce, and cedar trees. Here in Sisters, my surrounding sentinels are ponderosa pines and a few junipers. The thought of removing any of these stalwarts is anathema to me.

I have planted my share of trees everywhere I have lived — deciduous, evergreens, and flowering. The weeping cherry I planted in my front yard in Kirkland in 1994 is now a thick-trunked beauty that flowers every year to the delight of former neighbors who send me photos of its spring splendor.

Hanging over my back fence in Kirkland was the neighbor’s big leaf maple with its five huge trunks and leaves twice the size of my hand. I loved sitting on my patio and watching the breeze flirt with the leaves while industrious squirrels clamored among its branches. Each fall it would provide a glorious golden show before the leaves dropped. Moving to Sisters, I traded a once-a-year cleanup of maple leaves for a year-round cleanup of pine needles and cones.

Here in Sisters, I planted two now magnificent ‘Autumn Blaze’ maples on the side of my house and a ‘Prairie Fire’ flowering crab-apple in the backyard. My other crabapple fell to industrious rodents.

In between my childhood and living in Kirkland, I was shaded, protected, inspired, and awed by all my tree friends that were part of the environment wherever I found myself. Here in Sisters, I am especially fond of the pondies in my front yard, with their plated bark that smells like vanilla when they get really big and old.

I recently experienced the gut-wrenching felling of 15 big ponderosas two lots away from my house. It was a regular logging operation to make way for a new house — and then some. The 15 stumps and their attached roots were pried and ripped from the ground, leaving gaping holes. I figure Mother Nature got her revenge when the bottom of the holes filled with water because they had dug into the water table.

From the thud of each full-length tree as it hit the ground, to the noise and vibration of the splitter attachment breaking apart the stumps, to the pounding of the soil compactor attempting to seal out the water from seeping into the open wounds left by the stump removal, my heart ached for the desecration occurring in our little neighborhood. Every other house has attempted to retain as many trees as possible while fitting in among them. The few trees left on this latest building site may very well die due to extreme disruption and damage to their roots.

It was very difficult to watch this entire operation while feeling powerless to do anything to mitigate the permanent destruction of nature. The deer no longer rest among those trees. The squirrels and birds have lost their homes. And 15 large ponderosas are no longer taking in our carbon dioxide or providing welcomed shade from summer sun.

Being named a Tree City USA for 10 years, I would hope we could provide more protection for these gifts of nature, some of which were here before Europeans settled in Sisters. The largest of the 15 trees removed had 120 rings, showing it started as a seedling in 1901. It was located toward the back of the property. Did it really have to be ripped out?

It is missed.


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