"The real voyage of Discovery lies not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes"
Marcel Proust

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tree Silhouettes while Traveling Through Illinois

As in any book, there are stories to be cut, and we were sad to cut a few of our tree stories. Other landmarks fought for attention at the same spot or other stories ran beyond the boundaries of their mile. So, we thought we could “re-plant” this story on these cyber pages.

A chapter from “Reading the Landscape of America,” by May Theilgaard Watts and my love for sculpture inspired this story on tree silhouettes.

From the cutting room floor of the Illinois book:

Tree Silhouettes In the distance a row of trees punctuate the skyline with their branching silhouettes.  For half of the year these deciduous trees appear leafless, revealing the patterns of their weaving branches.  While some people may find winter and early spring trees “dead-looking”, others see beautiful black sculptures lining the hillsides on the highways. 
Different species of trees can be identified by their silhouettes.  For example, a weeping willow tree would be easy to identify by its drooping branches that cascade down like long hair. 

Massive Bur Oak trees left in open fields can sprawl horizontally with thick low limbs stretching wide over the plains. 

In contrast, Cottonwoods usually have a very tall straight trunk with few or no lower branches but with upper limbs that weave together vertically in lattice patterns.  These tall straight trunks were often used for canoes as trappers made their way down the Missouri River.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Honk if You Like Trees!

A shade tree is a blessing in the heat of the summer day. With a grassy cushion or soft chair to protect your backside from the bumpy roots, it’s a great place to enjoy a good read.  Shel Silverstein praised the tree in his book, “The Giving Tree” as have many other authors in poetry and essays over the years. 

We, too, felt the need to recognize these earthy friends in our traveling books. We cannot fail to mention the gifts that trees give to landowners, shoppers, sightseers, farmers, and children of all ages.

In our Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas books we talked about the Willows, Oaks, Hickories, Osage-Oranges, Red Cedars, and Cottonwoods.

Here are a few stories to share with you about the diversity and wonderment of those living creatures in which we are surrounded by but rarely acknowledge during our day.

From Traveling Through Illinois
Mile 137 Cottonwood Commerce-- If you are driving along this stretch of the highway in winter, snow may be flying past your windshield, but if you are passing through in June you may also see flurries. The trees in a row on your right are Eastern Cottonwood trees, whose tiny brown seeds are parachuted by cottony hairs that float across the highway like a summer snowstorm. Notice how the heart-shaped Cottonwood leaves seem to be continually moving. Cottonwood leaves constantly flutter because they have flat, rather than round, stems that make them twirl and twist wildly in the slightest breeze. Indian tribes shaped these tree trunks into sturdy canoes for their trips of commerce and companionship across the state. With hot coals, they would first burn the trunk and then scrape out they charred wood to sculpt their dugout canoes. Canadian explorers, Marquette & Joliet, traveled the Illinois and Mississippi River in birch bark canoes, but would have fared better on a Cottonwood craft if they would’ve ventured into turbulent waters. Plains and Prairie Indian tribes found Cottonwood canoes sturdier than the birch bark canoes of the northern woodlands.
Cottonwoods still contribute to commerce. If you stopped for an ice cream treat during your drive today, you may have held a cottonwood stick in your hand. The wood is used for such things as ice cream sticks, kites, veneer, baskets, pulpwood, and fuel. These lively trees are fast-growers, but short-lived. Years from now, this stand may be gone, but most likely, somewhere along I-55, you’ll still see these seed aviators planting products across the prairie.

from Driving Across Kansas
177 Water-loving Willows - Willows and water go together. Old Testament prophets, Shakespeare, and a multitude of writers and artists for centuries have linked willows and water. Unlike some literary linkages, this association is biologically accurate. Willows require an abundance of water and can survive long periods of flooding. These attributes make them the perfect shoreline tree. Willows serve an important function in preventing erosion of banks in ponds and streams. Willow roots form dense mats that hold the soil particles in place instead of being washed away by waves or flowing water.
Native Americans used willow wood and limber willow sprouts to make traps, tent poles and stakes, mats, baskets, drums, meat-drying racks, and many other things. Today willow wood is sometimes used for boxes, crates, and furniture parts. A specialty use of willow wood is for artificial limbs for amputees.
Willows were a living pharmacy for both Native Americans and European settlers. Virtually every potential health problem known was treated with teas or pastes made from parts of the willow tree by some group of people on the Plains. Even “chew-sticks,” the precursor to tooth brushes, often were willow twigs. These willow chew sticks may have provided other dental health benefits from the chemicals in the wood. Salicin, a painkiller used in modern pharmaceuticals, is found in willow bark and leaves. 
The familiar Weeping Willows are not a native species, but rather they originated in China. Weeping Willows were brought to Europe in the 1700s and eventually found their way to North America where now they are popular ornamental tree.

Written for, but not included in Driving Across Missouri
Sycamores - You can easily identify sycamores from the highway because they have white, tan, and greenish mottled bark. Sycamores grow where there is plenty of water so they are found along streams and rivers. Notice this tree is sitting in a damp low spot. Sycamores are the largest trees east of the Rockies. They can stand 150 feet tall and their crowns can be more than 100 feet across. Sycamore wood is hard, but it often rots from the inside so only the outer trunk supports the tree. Hollow trunks and branches become wildlife apartment complex for raccoons, opossums, bats, owls and other cavity-nesting birds. Settlers used huge trunk cavities, some as big as 125 square feet, as storage rooms and even homes. Sycamore wood has been used for dugout canoes, wagon wheels, barrels, and furniture.

How many trees do you think you pass on a day’s drive? Amazing how easily we overlook them, isn’t it?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Tornadoes on the Interstate

Our thoughts go out to all those who were affected by this past weekend's tornado outbreak in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois. Ted and I have friends and relatives whose communities were affected by these storms, but luckily none of them were injured. In "Traveling Through Illinois" we have a story about a deadly F-3 tornado that crossed the interstate on June 1, 1999. The tornado hit the rest area at mile 65 and overturned six tractor-trailer trucks and killed one driver and injured four others before it traveled farther northeast for ten miles.

It's difficult to know what to do when you are on the road and then caught in the midst of a twister. Some have found refuge under an overpass while for others this has proved deadly. Some stay in their cars and others get out and hide in a ditch or low-lying area. Here's some information we got from the National Weather Service on what might help you survive is you face a twister on the road.

from "Traveling Through Illinois"

Meteorologists advise that when drivers on highways spot a tornado, they
shouldn’t attempt to outdrive the unpredictable twisting mass of debris.
Tornadoes can weave back and forth over a road and change directions
quickly. They suggest that if it is visible and far away, you should drive at
right angles to avoid it. Drivers shouldn’t park under bridges or overpasses
since the winds can actually be more severe as they rush under these spots.
Rather, you should look for a nearby business where you could take shelter.
If no businesses are nearby, park your car, move away from it so it doesn’t
roll over on you, lie facedown in any low-lying area like a ditch or culvert and
cross your arms over your head for protection from flying debris.

Accounts from Oklahoma http://newsok.com/fatalities-reported-after-massive-storm-system-moves-through-central-oklahoma/article/3840694 reported an array of different accidents on I-40 and other roads. Tornadoes can touch down in any season, but most especially the spring and summer. We wish you safe travels on the road this summer!