The Grandfather Trees

As I have alluded to in the past I left Northern California for four years, first spending two years in Appalachia and following that a warming up period in the deserts of Arizona. Probably because I lived on the coast of Mendocino County where there are pygmy forests, I never saw the desert as what others did, a desert. I saw the desert as a different kind of pygmy forest. I know this sounds strange but I doubt I will ever change that perception. Just think Small Trees. (That’s all you need to understand.)

What is more understandable probably is that because I was accustomed to living among very large and very old trees, while I loved the pygmy forests of Arizona (and even miss them, especially the saguaro cactus, along with the desert wren and doves that graced my days so beautifully–sigh) I did feel a vacuum when it came to Trees. I did not fully realize this, however, until I visited a large Unitarian Church one Sunday. I arrived early and walked the ample inviting grounds, appreciating the statuary, and the creative gardens which had been established there by caring, loving people. I followed a simple path and suddenly found myself among some older trees, a real rarity in my experience in Arizona. I rather watched myself as I immediately walked to one large old tree. I wrapped my arms around it. I was just able to do that. I felt it with my whole body and tears very unexpectedly fell in little rivers down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I had no idea I was missing trees so very much. I poured my love and gratitude into that mature tree and took note.

I am now rerooted in Northern California and I have resumed a habit I began in previous times here. I have consciously identified those trees in this neighborhood that I regard as the Grandfather Trees. I’m well aware of them all the time when I’m out in my garden, even though none of them actually live on this property. Their strong presence is profoundly felt. The trunk of one of them is seen in the photo at the outset of this post. It is a very old very large bay tree, thus it is green all year long.

It is on the adjacent property, at the far back of my garden, just to the other side of the back fence. I am in complete awe of this tree. It has withstood the tests of time and I can only imagine what it has seen and weathered. If I were good at that sort of thing I would tell you how tall it is. I’m not. Let’s just say Very Tall. Its leaves rain into my garden all year long, a constant supply of bay if I’m inclined.

I am completely fascinated by its base, which always reminds me of an elephant.

I wonder who is drawn to live inside there? Bigger question. I wonder what critters have lived in this tree over the course of its life? I cannot begin to imagine. How old is this tree? Any guesses?

The Grandfather Bay Tree lies west of my point of reference, and thus is my Tree to the West. Its base moves upward and about three feet up splits into three distinct huge trunks, creating, in essence, three distinct trees sharing a common starting point. Quite amazing. It is trees such as this beloved old bay that lend sanctity, presence, dignity and grounding to our neighborhoods. Without them we are adrift.

“Yes, grandfather trees…are the ones with the most to teach us. They are the ones that inspire awe, the ones we choose to pray under.” –Joan Maloof

When I’m not looking at the bay tree from my back garden, my eyes gravitate north to this old spreading oak tree, now in winter attire. Two white poplars live between me and My Oak Tree to the North, and seem to stand guard to it. Here it is in bathed in morning’s first light. I am blessed with this view as I run Conner and Ruby early in the morning.

You are seeing just the tippy top as that is precisely what I see each day! I have never seen its base trunk and may well never, as it is living in another back yard. I am content with what it shows of itself to me. It is enough. Here is a second photo of grandfather oak at dusk from the front yard.

Goodnight, Grandfather Oak.

Holding honor as My Tree of the East is this friendly old fir tree, its height seen from many miles around no doubt, thus a part of many folks’ vistas.

As it is my neighbor, and I his, I had the luxury of getting up close and personal today, able to look up from under into its lovely strong and spreading branches. Quite august.

Its grounding lies in this large trunk. Imagine wrapping your arms around it and thinking of all it has borne witness to.

Truly it is no wonder I chose to live here.

Rounding out the four directions is the Tree to the South, the black walnut tree, which lives on neighbor Dave’s front property. I am fond of this tree, as is the grey squirrel I found perched just along the graft line munching away at some delicious find.

As I walked closer and closer Mr. Grey Squirrel raced into the lovely winter branches above and was gone.

Dearest Grandfather Trees, may we remember to cherish each of you, to recall the beauty and history you each lend to our modern lives. May we honor and protect you and ensure you are here for our children and grandchildren and theirs. Amen.

Love and winter blessings,
Kathryn xoxo
Postscript: Cousin Julie sent this wonderful photo of a pin oak on her friend’s property in central Ohio, which apparently is over 300 years old!

26 Responses to “The Grandfather Trees”

  1. Amen.

    Simply Beautiful, mom! Lovely share! Great pics! Thank you!

    And, YES! YES! I want to wrap my arms around that trunk! :-D

    Love you,
    Antonia
    xoxox

  2. Hi, Sweetheart! I’m so glad you grew up in the presence of these beautiful Northern California trees with the appreciation that you have. Did you see my grey squirrel? Akin to the ones you just wrote about??
    http://www.hittingsend.com

    Love, Mom xoxo

  3. Thank you, Kathryn, for your beautiful blog. Tomorrow in the light of a new day I will look for my “Grandfather Trees”. Our new home is surrounded by trees/woods and we have no window coverings. I wake up each morning and before I lift my head from my pillow I have all the time I need to see the beauty around me. Retirement and moving away from good friends was difficult. But we are closer to grandchildren and family and everyday when i wake up and see those trees, I know I’m in the right place.

  4. Welcome, Patsy! I’m very touched to think that in the morning you,too, will search out the Grandfather Trees that bless your current situation. If you can identify four, in the four directions, and then over time continue to consciously bring them into your awareness I predict you will adapt much more readily to your new situation. Their presence will inform you (or affect you) in very subtle ways. Moving away from the place that “knows your story” is hard, indeed. You are starting a new chapter and it sounds like you’ve chosen a beautiful place to stage the next part of your story. How wonderful! Kathryn xoxo

  5. Hello~
    The trees you have shared with us are amazing! The feeling I get from being among trees is one of my most treasured experiences. Thanks for sharing this beauty found in everyday life!

  6. Hi, Karrita! Thanks for the visit! I’m so glad you are a person who deeply appreciates trees! The more people who feel like this the better chance they have. Kathryn xoxo

  7. Kathryn!
    I saw that you had a new post, and I settled down in the chair in front of the computer to savor one of your wonderful posts.
    Wow! I have been working on a post like this. It has been percolating in my mind, and I have just a few images I have taken over the years.
    We are on the same wavelength. If I ever get around to posting this, I ask your permission if I may link back to you to your lovely and inspiring post.
    I call them Gaurdian trees, but Grandfather Trees is really the same feeling.
    Your Bay tree is a remarkable tree. It must be very old as these do not usually have such stature. How wonderful the delicious fragrance must be.
    :)
    It is so true that great trees must be in our DNA. I have read that primates in an African savannah will seek a tree to spend the night. Trees mean shelter, but also have been a spiritual focus. The Druids had their temple in France in a great grove what is now the cathedral at Chartres.
    I love your image looking up into the Fir. And Dave!
    :)
    an august Grandfather tree is a wonderful description.
    What a beautiful and inspiring post!
    Warm regards,
    Philip

  8. Hi, Philip! So cute! Yes, we are kindred spirits, no doubt! I really look forward to reading your Guardian Tree post with all the delicious, fascinating details and history which I know you will include! I’m glad you enjoyed this. Thanks for your kind words! Kathryn xoxo

  9. Hi !
    Friday, 24 April 2009 is Arbor Day!
    Wouldn’t that be a great day when Blotanists on Blotanical posted about trees…Grandfather trees, or seedlings planted that have the potential to become one?
    That is a few months away, but since you began the discussion, it would be wonderful to hear what trees mean to others.
    Planting a tree means a promise for the future, and the sagacity of Grandfather trees has meaning in our lives.
    If you asked others, I would love to participate.
    :)
    Philip

  10. Hi Kathryn, great pictures and wonderful words. I love and have great respect for old trees, if only they could speak. I would love to here their stories. Thank you dear Kathryn for yours.

    xoxo Tyra

  11. Dear Philip, This is a marvelous idea and I do hope you will post the Guardian Tree post and initiate this wonderful invitation! I have another post I’d like to do that involves trees and I’d love to join you! Arbor Day, April 24th it is! Thank you! Kathryn xoox

  12. Thanks, Tyra, I would love to learn about the oldest trees in your region. I hope you will join Philip’s Arbor Day Post! Kathryn xoxo

  13. Kathryn, I join you in praise and awe of these trees. We have many large oaks on our property and the largest is estimated at around 250 years old. Since this part of Ohio wasn’t even settled until the late 1800s, due to its being part of The Great Black Swamp, it’s truly amazing.

    A beautiful piece you’ve written here!

  14. Hi, Kylee! The Great Black Swamp does sound daunting! Thank goodness someone persevered and you have those oaks blessing your property. And lucky for them you appreciate them! Did you see Philip is suggesting an Arbor Day post? I hope everyone will write to him and encourage it! And you can showcase those 250 year old oaks for us! Thanks for the visit, Kylee. Kathryn xoxo

  15. What a wonderful post, Kathryn, and such an excellent term for senior trees; Grandfather Trees! So many of them are gone, logged or fallen to disease. Long ago out in British Columbia, I hiked a trail and came to a Douglas fir (I think it was) that was somewhere in the range of 800 years old; when it was a young tree, Marco Polo was exploring the world. (there was a plaque there that told us this). It’s pretty humbling to lay at the foot of a tree that large, stare up its trunk and into its sky-sweeping branches, and contemplate history.

  16. Welcome, Jodi! An 800 year old tree is an incredible being to contemplate. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we experienced a profound culture shift where the old trees would be honored and valued and preserved?
    I know there are major efforts, however, so much of it is cast in drama and struggle, sadly. How fortunate you witnessed a tree that old! Thanks for stopping by. Kathryn xoxo

  17. Kathryn, so glad you share my great love of trees. Here in Ohio, it is the oaks that are the grandfather trees. Once in awhile we still find oaks (white, red, pin, etc.) that predate white settlement in the area. Some are well over 300 years old (not old by California tree ages). They are mightly and massive with great armed widths. We have some growing in the two Union cemetaries that I help keep as arboritiums, Walnut Grove (1859) and Flint (1831). Less old but equally wonderful are the sycamore trees along the rivers and creeks which show up with their white and tan blotched bark this time of year, also the river birches with their peeling tan and red bark. I have some river birches, in clumps, in my front yard between the sidewalk and the street to enjoy all winter long. In the spring, it’s the black locusts covered with white blossoms that set the hillsides above the stream into glorious clouds of blossoms. The creamy white of the flowers against the dark twisted bark and the little green leaves make a beautiful spring show, along with the dogwoods and redbuds that color the edges of woodlots (and in my yard as well). I cannot think of a tree that I do not like, but there are some that I love for their strength and dominance of the landscape. They are the elephants and blue whales of the botanical world.
    Cheers from cold and snowy Ohio, Julie

  18. Dearest Kathryn ~ Thank you for honoring these great sentinels of the earth. Joan Maloof’s quote was touching as was your heartwarming post. In awe, I’m most fortunate to be surrounded by a tapestry of my inspirational friends both here and at the lake.

  19. Hi Kathryn,
    what fantastic photos – and what a joy to have them in your garden! Thank you for sharing them with us.
    We have lots of trees in our garden, but the oldest is only about 85 years old – a beautiful majestic oak that I hug when no-one is looking!
    We have Derbyshire’s oldest flowering cherry tree too, which is magnificent for a couple of weeks in May.
    As many of our trees are on the skyline (being as we are on the top of a hill and they can be seen from miles away), we have 17 trees with Preservation Orders on them – so they are safe for our future generations to enjoy as I do now.

  20. Hi, dearest cousin, Julie! I love what you’ve said, that these old trees are the elephants and the blue whales of the blotanical world! Thank you for your wonderful description of the beautiful trees you are blessed to be surrounded by in Ohio.I do have strong memories of large old trees in Ohio in my childhood and also in my post-graduation time in Columbus. Thank God for these old trees. Kathryn xoxo

  21. Good morning, Joey, and thank you for your heartfelt visit. Kathryn xoxo

  22. Welcome, Liz! “Derbyshire’s oldest flowering cherry tree” sounds like a marvelous claim! I hope you will write a post about it and share with us all come spring! As for “Preservation Orders” that is something I hope you will be writing about. What a service to educate folks on how to make that happen! And how fortunate that you live among people who would make that happen. Thanks for sharing. Kathryn xoxo

  23. Being from Western Washington and surronded by trees I forget what a magnificent thing they really are…thanks for the reminder! Kim

  24. Hi, Kim–You will carry it in your heart forever. Kathryn xoxo

  25. I have a giant California Bay tree in my back yard and it’s trunk and bark reminds me of an elephant, too . Mine measures a circumference of 182 inches at about 24 inches up and I wonder how old it might be.

  26. Hi, Emma, and welcome! I bet there are folks in your locale who can help you figure that out. i would if I were you. Good that you appreciate its heritage and beauty. Kathryn xoxo

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