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Trees Form Artistic Shapes

When a large branch was cut from a juniper tree, it created an interesting design.
When a large branch was cut from a juniper tree, it left an interesting design.

Some people take amazing photographs of the designs they find in trees. Junipers and pinons are two kinds of trees that often take on wonderful shapes in this area of high plateau country in northwest New Mexico.

 

Not too long after I bought my house surrounded by front and back yards, a juniper tree in the front yard needed to be trimmed. Over the years, it had sent out a thick branch from near the base of the juniper. It stretched about 15 feet across the yard. The branch was drooping and struggling to survive. My handyman cut it off near the base of the tree trunk. Since that time the branch stump has taken on an interesting design.

 

In creative moments, I try to imagine lots of different things it could look like. It could be a sideways face with the two dark colored holes on one side becoming eyes. The smaller round circle on the other end could be a mouth creating an "oh" shape. One morning I glanced out of the kitchen window and for a split second thought I was staring into the face of a wise old man. Then the branch stump quickly took on the shape I see every day.

 

If you take a walk in your neighborhood, you might spot several different kinds of trees with interesting shapes. It could be fun to see how many designs you can imagine coming from those shapes.

 

Some people drive along back roads in the countryside to see how many interesting tree designs and stumps they can find. They often take a camera with them to record their discoveries. Some members of photography clubs have prints made of their most impressive photographs. They frame them and enter them into art shows. Others who aren't members of any particular club have fun taking pictures and posting them on Facebook, on their own web page, or on one of many other on-line sites where people can enjoy looking at their photography.

 

It's delightful to see how creative that people can be and what amazing shapes they find as they keep their eyes wide open for delightful discoveries. The next time you're not sure how to spend part of your day, try driving or hiking around to see what artistic tree wonders you can find.

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Could Trees Be Apprehensive about Getting Trimmed?

Silver maple looks elegant and beautiful after trim
Newly trimmed silver maple tree

My neighbor had her silver maple tree trimmed by a professional tree trimming company this week. The tree had grown so much that it spread over the roof of her house, and it had lots of dead limbs. They created a potential safety hazard in case of fire or other traumatic event.

 

Her trimmed tree looks quite beautiful now. Its "haircut" makes it point majestically to the sky. Trees, like people's hair, need to be trimmed every now and then to help them look and feel more comfortable and healthier.

 

I sometimes wonder if trees could talk what they might say if they knew they were going to be trimmed. "No, thanks. I'll pass. I like my branches just the way they are." "A trimming!? That could kill me! Don't do it!!" "If you cut some of my branches off, I'll be the laughing stock of the neighborhood. What are you trying to do? Humiliate me?"

 

On the other hand, trees might want to thank us, if they could, for helping them gain a leaner, healthier, more distinguished look.

 

Do you remember the time you or any of your children got their first haircut? It may have been a scary time, especially if the person getting the haircut was a little child. Will it hurt? Will I die when my hair is being cut? I want to keep my hair, all of it, now and forever! Don't make me sit in that strange chair!!

 

If trees can feel scared or apprehensive or upset, my neighbor's tree might have felt a little traumatized. When we as humans are faced with a new experience, we might feel scared, apprehensive or upset too.

 

It's in talking with other people who have gone through a similar experience that we discover it's probably a good thing. Or maybe we read about the procedure in a book or ask the professionals doing it how they're going to carry it out.

 

Perhaps trees have a way of reassuring each other when faced with a new or challenging experience. If so, I hope my neighbor's silver maple received comforting reassurance that all would be well. It looks quite elegant and beautiful after its trim.

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How to Help Yourself Thrive

Watering through a hole in the center of a juniper stump helps branches growing from it stay healthy.
Hole in juniper stump waters branches

A juniper tree in my front yard has an interesting shape. Its main trunk died sometime before I bought the property. I had the trunk cut down to a stump. The tree remains alive, because two large branches grow out of one side of the stump. Those branches thrive. They stand tall, as though they are another tree.

 

A couple of years ago, the tree branches started looking sick. Some of their needles turned brown. I couldn't figure out why, because they got plenty of water. I hosed water all around the base of the stump, especially on the side that supported the two branches. In spite of getting that water, the branches didn't improve.

 

One day I decided to pour water into the hole in the center of the stump. That stump guzzled the water. No matter how much water I poured into that hole, it wanted more. Eventually, water reached the top of the stump hole and began to spill over. Its thirst had finally been quenched.

 

After watering the juniper that way for a few days, the branches began to look healthier. The needles grew green again. The tree began to thrive. Ever since then, I have watered that tree through the hole in the middle of its stump. The tree continues to thrive!

 

That experience with the juniper made me wonder how often we think we are nurturing ourselves when maybe we're not. Are we giving ourselves what we really need, or are we missing what will help us thrive? Whatever that missing thing is, when we find it and provide ourselves with more of it, we start feeling better. Fun, adventure and delight return to us.

 

What does it take to find that special thing that will return enthusiasm to us? I suspect it will be unique for each of us. To find it, pay attention to what you long for. It could be something quite simple, or it might be more complex.

 

The key is to pay attention to how you feel, what you wish for, what you miss. When you find whatever that hole in the stump is for you, give it more of whatever it is you've been wishing for, needing, or wanting. Do it consistently, and you may find yourself thriving just like my juniper tree.

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Blooming Yucca Plants

White cluster of yucca blossoms in May
Yucca blossoms in May

I was delighted last week to see that the yucca in my front yard is blooming. Its white blossoms look so beautiful, and there are several clumps of flowers. Yucca are common plants to find in the area of northwest New Mexico where I live.

 

I always thought they were cactus plants, but they aren't. Instead they are in a plant family called Agavaceae. I had no idea they were an agave-like plant. I learned that from an interesting site, https://davesgarden.com. You can learn about all kinds of plants there.

 

Some yucca look like a spiky shrub. Others grow almost as tall as trees. The yucca in my yard look like the ones I see when I walk out into the countryside. They have long green blades with sharp points, and their flowers are white. When my son was a pre-schooler many years ago, we used to walk around the country property where we once lived north of Aztec, NM. We would ooh and ahh at the yucca in bloom. We also searched for several different varieties of blooming cacti. If we spotted them at the right time in the spring, their gorgeous yellow or pink blossoms made us smile.

 

Centuries ago, Anasazi and Pueblo Indians in northwest New Mexico used to use yucca roots to make shampoo. They used them for other things as well. If you take a trip to the Aztec Ruins National Monument in Aztec, NM, you will find out lots more about the yucca and how useful it was to people hundreds of years ago.

 

Yucca appear in lots of yards in the subdivision where I live. They don't need much water and take very little maintenance. I have to keep a sharp eye out to be sure they don't try to sprout in another spot in my yard. As much as I love my yucca, I don't need any more!

 

I was intrigued to learn that yucca plants survive because they are pollinated by the yucca moth. The female yucca works at night. She smells the sweet scent of the yucca flowers and flies to them. Once there, she gathers pollen from the stamens of one plant. Then she deposits that pollen on the stigma of another plant. What she does in the process is to lay her eggs in the yucca flowers themselves. They are protected there and have a food source when they develop into the larva stage. Yucca moths have just one purpose, and that is to pollinate the family of yucca plants. Nature can be quite specialized!

 

If you want to learn more about yucca plants, one good source is www.newmexicoenchantment.com/p/yucca-plant.html with no period after html. You can learn a lot about yucca at your local nursery as well.

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Cities that Love Trees

Trees and a bench in a restful spot in Boise, Idaho
Trees in Boise, Idaho

In the fall of 2013, my husband, son and I spent several days in Boise, Idaho while attending a barbershop singing event. They love singing barbershop songs.

 

When I was purchasing items at the cash register of a large store there, the cashier told me a little bit about Boise. "Boise means the city of trees," she told me. She was proud of her city.

 

I could tell that trees mean a lot to people who live in Boise. Almost everywhere we went there were trees. They were well taken care of. Idaho residents have valued trees for a very long time.

 

Idaho received its statehood in 1890, but long before that pioneers decided to improve the community's appearance by planting many trees. They provided cool shade in a desert frontier. The wise efforts of early Idaho residents continue to play an important role in the city of Boise. Community members love and respect their trees, which help to improve the city's quality.

 

Boise Community Forestry helps with that effort. The organization was created to educate citizens and the city government about the aesthetic benefits of trees. They help to improve the economy, the environment, and the psychological well-being of people who live in and visit the city. Boise Community Forestry is a branch of Parks and Recreation. It helps the city, citizen groups and volunteers plant trees and keep them healthy.

 

There is even a tree selection guide to help people plant and cultivate the right kinds of trees for different areas. It is estimated that trees create a benefit of over $9 million each year by helping to provide clean air and clean water. They also reduce energy use, enhance property values and provide many human health benefits.

 

Boise is not the only city that focuses on trees. An annual recognition program called Tree Cities of the World helps cities to focus on excellent urban forest practices and management. The program was created in 2018 in a partnership between the Arbor Day Foundation and the United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization.

 

It has been quite effective. Already there are 120 cities in 23 countries that are recognized as Tree Cities of the World. Trees make a subtle but incredible difference when they are valued and managed well.

 

I remember walking from our hotel to a grocery store in Boise and noticing how many trees grew around the store's parking lot. It almost seemed like the trees knew how much they were valued. It felt good to be around so many well cared for trees.

 

I will never forget the pride of that cashier in her city when she told me about how much Boise

loves its trees. It helped to make my visit there memorable.

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How the Shea Tree Saved a Village

A development expert helps a Ugandan village come back to life with shea trees
With the help of a Ugandan development expert, the shea tree saved a war ruined Uganda village.

Arbor Day is this Friday, April 30. It's a day to celebrate trees. That made me think about how I can celebrate trees. What I love to do is tell the trees in my front and back yards hello every time I walk near them. I thank them for being in my yard and for all the things they do to help make the space they occupy a better place.

 

During this week, I also enjoy reading about the special role some trees play in their community. There's a wonderful article in the March 12, 2021 The Guardian Weekly about how a man named Ojok Okello helped his Ugandan village of Okere Mom-Kok revive and thrive after more than a decade of war left it in ruins. He is doing it with the help of shea trees that grow in and around the village. The project is a social enterprise, and villagers work together to make their own decisions about the enterprise.

 

Okello told The Guardian Weekly, "I looked at the shea tree and realized that we have this important natural resource, and we were not harnessing it." The inspiration for using shea trees came to him from the Marvel block-buster movie, Black Panther. He was sitting under a shea tree outside his house one afternoon in early 2020 when the idea began to materialize. "I thought about Wakanda and Black Panther. They had vibranium. This shea tree could be our vibranium," he said. He decided to invest everything within his means to tap the resource of the shea trees, protect them, and use them to help his village come back to life and prosper.

 

The villagers make Okere Shea Butter and sell it in the capital, Kampala. Shea butter is made from a fatty substance that comes from nuts that grow in shea trees. It is often used in cosmetic skin preparations.

 

Shea trees are classed as an endangered species, which is threatened by extinction. Okello advocates for the protection and regeneration of the trees. Already the shea butter is catching on in Kampala, and Okere Mom-Kok is becoming a thriving and sustainable town of 4,000 people. Villagers have renamed their now thriving town Okere City.

 

Okello is the mover and shaker behind the plans that resulted in Okere City, which began in January 2019. Its 200 hectares, slightly over 494 acres, include a school, health clinic, a bank, and a community hall that also serves as a cinema, church and nightclub. The town even has a boxing team.

 

Electricity generated from solar energy is available to everyone, and the village now has clean water from a borehole, a deep, narrow hole made in the ground to locate water or oil. School is not free. Pupils pay cash for half of their school fees. The remainder they pay in maize, beans, sugar and firewood. Residents pay their clinic bills in installments.

 

The project would not have become successful if Okello had not initially funded it from his own pocket. Last year, the cost was about $54,000. Okello is a London School of Economics graduate who has worked as a development expert for several international charities and non-government organizations. He saw many projects fail because communities were not involved in decisionsabout their own future. That disillusioned him.

 

Okello was only a baby when he left the village of Okere Mom-Kok after his father was killed in the bush wars of the 1980s. After finding success as a development expert, he left that career and returned to the village, hoping to meet his extended family there. He wanted to use his extensive skills to create a project that was truly led by the villagers of Okere Mom-Kok.

 

He succeeded so well that now the village generates revenue. All of the projects, from the school and clinic to the local bar, all fund themselves. That's because the project Okello developed is not built as a charity but as a social enterprise in which every villager has a say in how the project is shaped now and into the future.

 

Villagers have a weekly investment club meeting in the community hall. Most of the more than 100 club members are women, many of them farmers. A few run small businesses. One woman got a loan from the club to buy shea seeds. She sold them at a profit, and she repaid her loan. Members make financial contributions before the money is redistributed as loans for members. Once they repay their loan, the money recycles back into the club so more members can get loans.

 

The shea tree played a vital role in this success story. Okello used his skills, the enthusiasm of the villagers, and the resource of shea trees to help his village resurrect itself from ruin to vibrant revival. Without the shea tree, that success might never have happened.

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Noticing the Sights and Sounds of Nature

Purple flowers begin to show themselves through the leaves of a grape hyacinth
Grape hyacinth starting to bloom

I was standing in my front yard on Easter Sunday, looking up at the large juniper tree beside my driveway. Birds bounced from branch to branch, singing their trilling songs. I watched the birds, intrigued by how easily they hopped through the tree. I listened to their intricate melodies.

 

All the little and big things that had been vying for attention in my mind took a back seat to the tree and the birds. Through the branches, I could see the neighbors across the street. They were having an Easter egg hunt in their front yard. The father lifted his toddler up to peer into the fork of a tall tree. The child's hand reached out and grasped an egg hidden there for him to find.

 

I listened to the excited voices of the children as they found treasures in the grass, behind rocks, and tucked next to the driveway. It was an idyllic scene. I came away from it, feeling refreshed after being around trees, birds, and a young family on an Easter egg hunt.

 

Taking time to enjoy the trees and the bird sounds in my own yard is a great way to de-stress. I don't spend much time doing that, but I may try to enjoy nature in my yard more than I have been. It has such a calming effect and puts things into better perspective.

 

The things I often stress over don't seem quite as stressful when I take time to listen to the sounds of nature around me and watch trees sway in a gentle wind.

 

Why don't we take more time to do things like that? Listening to nature's sounds are known to be good for our health because of the calming effect they have on us. For me, part of it is that I get so busy I don't think I have time to stop for a few minutes to listen to sounds around me and see the beauty of nature.

 

I did take a few minutes this morning to look at the plants starting to green up in the flower bed by my side door. A grape hyacinth was pushing up its purple blossoms. A rose bush sprouted new green leaves. A tulip lifted tall green blades toward the sky. And birds sang as they flitted in a spruce tree in my back yard.

 

When I went back inside after spending just a few minutes enjoying nature, I had more energy to tackle the tasks that awaited me. Everything seemed a little easier to do. Those few minutes spent paying attention to the beauty of nature around me weren't wasted time. I accomplished more in less time – just because I took a few moments to relax and notice, really notice, the loveliness around me.

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Signs of Spring

Swelling lilac buds on lilac bush branches
Swelling lilac buds

Swelling lilac buds tell me that purple, fragrant flowers are almost ready to blossom in my yard. Now that spring has come, the promise of blooming fruit trees and colorful bushes are not far away.

 

Someone will till my small garden plot in the corner of my backyard soon. I wonder how the rescue dog I adopted almost five months ago will react to all the scents and textures of spring. She leaps in the air out of pure joy, charges after neighborhood cats who dare to venture into the backyard, and delights in eating certain sprouting weeds.

 

She has the enthusiasm of a three-year-old dog, and I remind myself often that she's like a 21-year-old young lady full of youthful vigor. She races around the two spruce trees and cavorts across the dormant grass with delight every time I step out into the backyard.

 

She balances along a cement block wall that rims two sides of the yard, helping to hold dirt for raised flower beds. Last year, they grew dianthus, marigolds, petunias, pansies and zinnias. The dianthus will sprout in a few weeks – if they survive the dog.

 

I will spend more time in the yard, getting exercise, losing pounds gained during the cold winter months that kept me inside. One news report said that during the year of greater isolation due to the Covid-19 virus, some people gained up to 1.8 pounds a month. Taking walks outside or even just puttering in the yard will help to trim us down a little bit, or maybe a lot.

 

So many things to look forward to this spring! But, for the moment, what I look forward to most are watching those lovely lilacs bloom. And, of course, delighting in a dog who finds such joy in my company.

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Trees Recognize Their Offspring

Trees talk to each other and recognize their offspring. That's the title of an interesting article by Derek Markham updated January 11, 2021 on treehugger.com.

 

In it, Markham wrote that after large tracts of land left treeless from clearcutting are replanted, many people think that replanting is successful. But when one tree is replanted to replace another that has been cut down, it doesn't take into consideration an important reality. Trees form families, and mothers take special care of their tree offspring.

 

The article quoted forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, who spoke at TEDSummit 2016. She has spent three decades researching trees in Canada's forests. Simard told the listeners that trees are much more than a collection of plants independent of each other.

 

She began to wonder if trees could recognize their own kin like parents recognize their children and mother grizzlies know their own cubs. So she and others began an experiment in which they grew mother trees with both their kin and with strangers' seedlings. Among the measurements they used was isotope tracing. With it, they traced carbon and other defense signals "moving from an injured mother tree down her trunk into the mycorrhizal network and into her neighboring seedlings." A mycorrhizal network is made up of underground networks created by mycorrhizal fungi that eventually result in mushrooms. Those fungi connect individual plants together. They transfer water, carbon, nitrogen, and other nutrients and minerals.

 

The experiment revealed that mother trees really do recognize their own kin. They do many things to help their seedlings prosper. Mother trees send their own seedlings "more carbon below ground," Simard said. "They even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids. When mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings."

 

Without any visible proof except my own experience, I've noticed if you spend enough time around certain trees with a respectful attitude, they come to trust you. In a way I don't understand, they let other trees know they can trust you too. If you think that couldn't be, try experimenting with the idea. Spend time around trees you enjoy. Express gratitude for them. Meditate near them. Listen with your heart to sense if they need something from you.

 

Once you establish a trusting connection with one or more trees, when you travel somewhere else you may sense that trees you don't know want your attention. Somehow they have learned you're someone to be trusted. If you get to know trees, don't be surprised if other trees want your attention as well.

 

Our world is more connected that we often realize. Just as trees communicate with their own seedlings, they can develop a relationship with us as well. Those connections are beneficial to us if we take the time to cultivate an appreciation for trees.

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Trees Anticipate the Coming of Spring

When trees such as Russian olives sprout new leaves in spring, they provide safe nesting places for birds and other animals.
Leaves sprout on Russian olive tree, providing shelter for animals.

During warmer days of late winter, a taste of spring hangs in the air. I notice it sometimes when I walk near a tree. There is a sense of anticipation, almost like an awakening that comes from the trees.

 

Most of nature rests during winter months. With the approach of spring, there is the hint of new growth and sunny weather that wraps trees, bushes and plants of all kinds in expectant energy. Fruit trees collect that warmth to know when it's time to blossom into colorful flowers with a promise of fruit later on – if cold, frosty weather doesn't return.

 

Anticipation of the spring to come carries bumps along the way. Among those bumps for trees are below freezing weather late in the season and harsh winds.

 

Life is like that. There are cracks and barriers on our pathways. Sometimes they seem overwhelming, especially when several problems show up close together. They appear one right after the other before we've even had time to recover from the last one.  But, like the approach of spring, there are more good days than challenging ones.

 

As you walk near trees during this late winter season, absorb their confidence that spring is coming. Remind yourself that good days ahead will outnumber unpleasant ones. Absorb that knowing from the trees. It brings hope. And hope helps us to keep going even during the worst of days.

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