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

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?

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