Stumble Upon

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Different Kind of Tree Hugger

I was having a bad dream and woke up to the sound of a buzz saw to discover the mangled corpse of chopped wood chunks and strewn branches, the remains of the beautiful tree that protected my balcony.

The former golf course owners sold the land to a developer; and the tree, a victim of drought and greed, lost its caretaker.

I am up on the second floor, and though the tree was 20 feet away, it was home to mourning doves and hummingbirds. The mature tree was a sanctuary for them and a natural shade and privacy screen for my living space. I felt a mixture of sorrow and anger.

I have a special kinship with trees.

I grew up in a immigrant Chicago apartment building encircled with asphalt and concrete and envied the girl who lived in a house adjacent to the apartments with a backyard filled with 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 tree 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, there is still a fragrant orange tree tucked in a corner 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, 2010-2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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


  1. I'm slightly envious that you owned enough land to have trees on it. I too hate to see trees chopped down merely because they're in the way of some money-making scheme.

    However, where I live now probably has more trees than people, which is wonderful. Many of our local trees are ornamental species (flame trees, cotton trees, jacarandas, etc.), which provide an impressive display in springtime. If you're interested, In Praise of Trees is my description of my local trees.

  2. This is a really interesting article, Erana. You are obviously a tree lover and probably talk to them as well.

  3. Do I love trees? You bet I do. I live in British Columbia in Canada, on a forested island and on a forested acreage in an area where our activism has saved ancient rainforests. We have planted hundreds of trees on our property and we have fenced most of it off, and left it in its natural state as a home for birds and wildlfe. We are also gureilla tree planters who plant on any crown land we are close to.

  4. Great post, so well-written. Trees with their stillness, rugged beauty and equanimity inspire me every day.