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Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Different Kind of Tree Hugger

This week the tree behind my terrace was cut down. It was a victim of drought and greed. Its former golf course owners sold the land to a developer, and the tree lost its caretaker.

I am up on the second floor, and though the tree was 20 feet away, it was a wonderful privacy screen for me and home to mourning doves and humming birds. Strangely enough, I was having a bad dream and woke up to the buzz saw and the tree’s mangled corpse outside my terrace.

I have a special kinship with trees.  Even though I grew up with asphalt and concrete in an apartment building in immigrant Chicago, I loved trees and envied the girl in the house behind the apartments who had trees and a yard to play in. I told myself that someday I would be in a home embraced by trees.

And my wish came true. After I married and was living in a small, bedroom community in central Illinois, we moved onto a five acre, semi-wooded lot with wonderful, century old, sugar maple trees.

With all that land, being a former city kid, I eagerly planted a huge vegetable garden and experienced great delight watching the surrounding trees change their wardrobes with the passing seasons.

We even drank the sap from the maple trees, nectar fit for the gods. Nothing manufactured measures up to fresh maple syrup’s unique and rich sweetness tapped from the source.

One buckeye tree had the honor of housing a tire swing for my children plus offering beautiful mahogany nuts every fall for Xmas wreaths and decorating the fireplace mantle in the winter.

I experienced a cathartic therapy from trimming the branches and letting the trees breathe and more light shine through. It was as if the trees knew I was caring for them, and I sensed their appreciation.

During a troubled divorce period, pruning the trees helped me redirect my frustration and anger by cutting off the dead branches, allowing new shoots to grow.

But I couldn't protect them from nature’s fury. For two years, tornadoes spiraled through the Midwest with a vengeance. Spared one year but not the next, a fierce tornado tore my beloved sugar maples out of the ground taking away their beauty and protection.

I took it as a personal loss as my friends and guardians were devastated by the unrelenting winds. In the spring I planted redbud trees further back in the forest giving them more shelter from the storms.

When I moved to Virginia, my new home came with stately white oaks for a hammock and a playground for squirrels, Baltimore orioles, blue jays and wrens.

Only on a third of an acre on a cul-de-sac, these trees also attracted possum, occasional raccoons and even a fox.

It was my wooded sanctuary, harmonious and nurturing. The trees gave me a sense of being grounded and balanced while I watched my children grow up.

Once again nature tested the trees. They were besieged by gypsy moth caterpillars, hordes that were out of control and devouring forests at night. The white oaks were under attack by a relentless pestilence. Every day I removed the obnoxious caterpillars feeding off the trees and weakening them. The battle seemed endless, but I persisted to save the trees.

During that “infestation” period, I also was fighting an inheritance battle with my father back in the Midwest over my mother’s will which split the proceeds from the house among my father, my brothers and me. I was the will's executor, but my father was ignoring my mother’s wishes; and I had to hire an attorney to be certain the inheritance was allocated as my mother had wanted.

Battling the gypsy moths helped me release the anger I felt towards my father’s bullying, and the trees served as an outlet for my difficult emotional storm.

Though the tree behind my condo was hauled away this week, there is still a fragrant orange tree below that perfumes the breeze and shares its sweet fruit with all the neighbors.

I have a special connection and history with trees. I have cared for them, and they have cared for me providing me pleasure and a release from pain. I am a different kind of tree hugger.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Tree photo by Joe Zlomek
Raccoon photo by Troy Schulz
Orange tree photo by Jose Luis Navarro


  1. It's always lovely to find a connection with something so established and simple in its requirements. Those kind of connections are the best, I think.

    This is a beautifully documented story.

  2. Yes, all living things are connected. Nature's beauty can inspire and comfort us. Appreciate your comment.

  3. Found you on blogher, so I wanted to check out your blog. Just wanted to stop in and say hello

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Randa. Any new cravings for your kitchen?

  5. Nice to know I am not alone in my love of nature and her trees. I'm sure the neighbors laugh at me as I trudge through the Minnesota snow to gently brush the mounds of snow weighing down the Evergreen trees. The neighbors may laugh but watching the long branches swing upward free of the weight I enjoy a most satisfying smile and my own freedom. Thank you.

  6. Thanks, Beth. I knew I was not alone:)

  7. I just love this article, it brought back so many wonderful memories for me. Myself like you Erana love trees, they are the lungs of Mother Earth, a food source, shelter, a mini ecosystem for a range of insects and animals, shade and spectacularly beautiful!