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An Experience with Grandfather Tree

 Once tall, spreading cottonwood fell after being knocked down.

For more than 40 years, I lived on land north of Aztec, NM that I shared with a tall, weather scarred cottonwood tree. Many different bird species perched in it, and a goose once laid its eggs in a cleft between two of its huge branches.


At one time, the Healing Tree seemed to be a good name for the cottonwood. There was a peacefulness about it that made people feel less stressed. In 2015, I called a young adult fantasy novel I wrote The Healing Tree. The cover bears a picture of the tall cottonwood. An artist outlined the tree with mystical looking lines to emphasize the book's fantasy focus.


Later, Grandfather Tree seemed like a better name for the tree. It had weathered many storms and survived probably more than two hundred years.


When I lived on that land, I often spent time near Grandfather Tree as I walked up and down the irrigation ditch bank. The tree sent deep roots into the soil next to a wooden bridge that crossed the ditch. I moved away almost six years ago but never forgot the cottonwood. Sometimes I would pray for it, asking that it have whatever it needed to stay healthy.


In early spring last year, I couldn't stop thinking about Grandfather Tree. It made me wonder if the tree was okay. I made a special 12-mile trip from my new home in Farmington, NM so I could drive past the tree. Its branches spread tall and wide like they had for many years. I prayed for the tree again and headed back to my new home, relieved to see that it was doing well.


This Monday, Grandfather Tree came into my mind so strongly that I couldn't stop thinking about it. On my way home from nearby Durango, Colorado, the tree continued to stay on my mind. Instead of driving on the highway on the east side of the Animas River, I drove down a county road on the west side of the river. It took me past where I used to live.


My heart sank when I saw the tree. It lay in pieces on the irrigation ditch bank. I felt devastated, as though I had lost a dear friend. What had caused the tree to fall?


I stopped at the home of former neighbors who lived two houses down from my old house. They filled me in on the details. Convinced that the old cottonwood was hollow inside and no longer safe, the irrigation ditch rider knocked the tree down last spring. I felt close to tears.


I drove back to the bridge that crossed the irrigation ditch on the property I once owned and parked at the edge of the road. Taking out my cell phone, I walked toward the wooden bridge to take pictures of the once majestic tree.


The bridge was covered with snow that could be slippery, and the neighbor had warned me that a mean dog owned by neighbors roamed free and bit people. I decided to stay close to my car, so I didn't cross the bridge to see for myself if the tree was really hollow.


I kept wondering why the tree didn't come into my mind when it was being knocked down last year. Yet, on this day, many months later, the tree wouldn't leave my thoughts. Why now? I may never know.


As I drove home, praying for the tree, I felt as though its trunk fit gently around my body, giving me a comforting hug. In my mind, the tree remains alive in spirit, and the attachment that grew between us for so many years is also very much alive.

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Trees Go Dormant in Cold Weather

Cottonwood in dormancy

Trees go dormant in the winter, kind of like hibernating. In the yard of the home where I used to live, my black walnut trees took a long time to leaf out in the spring. People who didn't know that might think they were dead. But they just stayed dormant in the spring longer than most trees.


When deciduous trees (the ones with leaves) go dormant, their metabolism and energy consumption slow down, according to an excellent article by Eileen Campbell in Treehugger News. Until I read her article, I didn't realize there were two types of dormancy.


One is called endo-dormancy. In that kind of dormancy, the trees will not grow even when they experience good, warm, growing conditions. Something inside the trees keep them from growing.


The other is called eco-dormancy. That's when the days get shorter and weather gets colder, usually below the mid-40 degrees Fahrenheit, about the time trees start to lose their leaves.


Each tree produces a chemical called abscisic acid (ABA) at the tip of the stem where the stem and the leaf connect. That acid is also produced in coniferous trees, the ones that usually have needles and pine cones. The acid temporarily stops growth. It also prevents cells from dividing. ABA helps the trees to survive in winter by reducing the amount of energy they need to produce. But even in dormancy, evergreen trees don't usually lose their needles unless they are under stress or are getting older.


If people force a tree not to go into eco-dormancy by bringing it inside where it's warmer, that reduces the tree's lifespan. To remain healthy, trees need to go dormant for a while each year.


When I see trees with bare limbs after their leaves have fallen, I am glad they are slowing down and taking a rest in the winter. I enjoy a break from gardening and other summer activities too. I will be happy to see trees start to leaf out in the spring when it gets warmer outside. That's about the time I start to think about getting my garden ready to plant!

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Exploring Your Family's Christmas Memories

My Christmas tree today

When I was looking up information on the internet about the history of Christmas trees, I came across an interesting trivia fact.


The website, https://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas-trees, revealed that "the tallest living Christmas tree is believed to be the 122-foot, 91-year-old Douglas fir in the town of Woodinville, Washington." That caught my eye, because my niece and her family recently moved to Woodinville, a town I had never heard of until they moved there.


It made me think that an entertaining family activity might be to learn interesting facts about Christmas traditions in your family. For example, what kind of Christmas tree did your family use when you were a child? What kind of tree did your grandparents use?


When my son was in elementary school, he came home with a question. His teacher wanted all the kids to find out what kind of Christmas tree their parents had as a child.


I wasn't sure. We had grown up overseas, in the Sudan, where my parents spent several years working. When I asked her, my elderly mother said it was a sesaban tree. The closest spelling I can find to that on the internet is a sesban tree. My mother died a few years ago, so I can't ask her anything more about the tree, what it looked like, where it typically grew, or why they chose to use that kind of tree.


Information like that gets lost so easily unless someone in the family interviews parents, grandparents and other relatives and writes down what they say. When I was a child, I didn't wonder what kind of decorated Christmas tree stood in our living room. My mind was captured by all the Christmas gifts in colorful wrapping under the tree.


When I attended college in Kansas, I found a tumbleweed and brought it to my dorm room to decorate for Christmas. It was just the right size, and the decorated tumbleweed captured the Christmas spirit. Once out of college, I abandoned the tumbleweed idea. Today, I use the same artificial tree my husband and I bought more than 40 years ago. It still works great, and it holds many good memories.


If you decide to ask some of your relatives about their Christmas memories, you might discover some interesting, intriguing facts.

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Festival of Trees

Festival of Trees is a community-sponsored charitable benefit

This time of year, Farmington, New Mexico, where I live, has an amazing event called Festival of Trees. During the event at the Farmington Civic Center, many local organizations, businesses, schools, and individuals decorate a tree or a wreath and donate it to the festival. They're all on display, this year from Nov. 29-Dec. 3.


For the last 20 years, the Festival of Trees has been a community-sponsored charitable benefit for Presbyterian Medical Services, a not-for-profit organization. PMS offers many services to the Farmington area community, including a health center, children's development services including such things as speech and occupational therapy and autism screenings, and free high-quality early education for children ages six weeks to five years.


Festival of Trees has been a part of Farmington for many decades. At one time, it benefited other organizations, but for the past 20 years, it has focused on helping PMS.


Many people, including a variety of organizations in the community, decorate a tree or wreath that they put on display during Festival of Trees. The trees sometimes include give-aways or gift cards.


Each tree or wreath is numbered and includes the name of the person, organization, service club, business, or school that created it. A barrel in front of each tree contains the number associated with that tree or wreath.


People come to the festival and buy tickets on which they put their name and phone numbers. They buy those tickets from a dedicated group of volunteers. The volunteers are cheerful, helpful and full of enthusiasm for an event they believe in. Many thousands of tickets are sold. Money from the tickets benefits PMS. Christmas ornaments and decorated shirts are also sold to raise money for PMS.


When people have filled out the information on the backs of their tickets, they drop the tickets in the barrels of the trees or wreaths they would like to win. On Sunday, Dec. 4, after the winning ticket from each barrel is drawn, the winner is notified by phone call. They must arrive promptly that afternoon to collect what they won at the civic center.


The festival is more than a way to raise money for PMS. It's also a place to meet friends and to participate in a different activity each day. Those activities include lunch with the trees, teddy bear story time, coffee break, senior citizen social, Santa's sleigh ride, and a platinum celebration that includes a prime rib dinner, dancing, and a special raffle.


Many people come to the festival. Sometimes they just drop raffle tickets into the barrels of the trees or wreaths they would like to win. Other times they participate in one or more of the activities. They all come with the desire to support their community.


What a wonderful way to celebrate the gift of giving at Christmas time!

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Walk to Relax and Discover Beauty

Bee explores gum weed plant

Coats and sweaters appear in my house during this cooler, autumn weather. Now is a wonderful time to take a nature walk. You can walk through your neighborhood, along hiking paths, or find a bench on which to sit and notice your surroundings.


It helps to take a deep breath to help yourself begin to relax. Keep your eyes open as you notice everything around you. The breeze might feel a little chilly, the sun may help you feel warmer. As you focus on what you are seeing and hearing around you, the sounds of chirping birds and flowing water might come into your awareness.


We miss so many things when we don't take time to relax and pay attention. When we learn to calmly listen, we often discover that we start to breathe more deeply, a sure sign that we are starting to relax.


See the dirt pathway with weather resistant weeds poking out between pebbles. Hear the branches of trees rub against each other. Notice some of the few remaining leaves falling toward the ground.


As you continue to notice and to feel relaxed, ask yourself what you would like to see in your life. Do you long for more job satisfaction, improved family harmony, a better understanding of your life's purpose?


Pick up a small rock. Let your thumb and fingers explore its surface. What do you feel there? Bumps? Crevices? Rough or smooth edges?


As you walk or sit, keep noticing what you see, hear, feel, touch, and smell. Every time you become more aware of your surroundings, you are letting go of a distraction in your life that has kept you from noticing all the beauty around you.


Think about the things you enjoy and love in your life. Let your mind explore each of those things in the same way you let your fingers explore that rock. The more you appreciate those positive things, the more you become aware of them.


When you reach the end of your walk, take another deep breath in. Then let it out as you allow gratitude to flow from you. Be thankful for everything you experienced during your time in nature. Saying thanks is one way of helping you to remember the lovely, calm, and relaxing moments you just experienced.

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Surviving Huge Challenges

Determined cottonwood tree

When we are faced with huge challenges, life may seem overwhelming. They feel like insurmountable obstacles: moving away from home, losing a friend or loved one, selling a house and moving into a new one, being fired, adjusting to a new job, struggling through an illness. The list goes on and on.


What I've noticed about such challenges is that each one takes monumental effort on my part. I have to dig deep inside myself and find new ways to cope, or I must polish long-unused skills to survive. When it's all done, I'm exhausted.


No matter what the difficulty, once we make it through and give ourselves time to rest and recover, we wonder how we managed to survive. We remember that neighbors, friends, or even strangers lent a hand at particularly grueling moments. We used tools to help us survive the next minute, hour, or day. We might have learned to use those tools from earlier challenges. We might have discovered how to use them out of sheer necessity and the overwhelming urge to survive. No matter how those tools developed, they are in our toolbox now, and they can be refined for all kinds of other tasks. They help us to navigate life a little more easily.


I thought about that when I was walking on a pathway beside the Animas River in Berg Park. It's a beautiful area of trails, brick walkways and benches that runs through Farmington, New Mexico, the city where I live.


I came upon a cemented area protecting two large metal culverts that let water flow under a walkway and into the Animas River. Nothing grows on that cemented area – except for one very determined little cottonwood tree. It had found a crack in the cement big enough for its roots to reach nutrient-rich soil.


What courage it must have taken for that tree to find a way to flourish! There are much friendlier areas where it could have rooted. Some of those places are just a few feet away, but for some reason it chose that spot.


When I look at the picture I took of that young tree, it reminds me that I too can make it through tough times. Life eventually will get easier, more relaxed, even fun. If I make a list of all the difficulties I have faced in one column and all the good times I've experienced in another column, there are many more good times than difficulties. Thank goodness!

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How Rainwater Helps Plants to Grow

Today's rain helped these cosmos flowers to flourish.

It has been raining here this afternoon, and the trees, flowers and vegetables are drinking in the water. When I go outside to check on them after a rain, the plants all look perkier and healthier. It's a good reminder that we all need to drink plenty of water to stay healthy.


There's something about rainwater that gives plants more of what they need than sprinkler water. On the Internet, I tried to find out what that something is.


One thing rainwater provides is nitrogen. It comes to the plants in the form of nitrates. Plants use those nitrates to help them produce green leafy foliage.


The rainwater has a pH between 6.2 and 6.8. The term pH stands for potential hydrogen, and pH is a measure of how much alkalinity and acidity something contains. The lower the pH level, the higher the acidity. The higher the pH level, the higher the alkalinity.


I checked online to learn more about alkalinity. At https://study.com/academy/lesson/alkalinity-definition-calculation.html, I learned that alkalinity deals mainly with three ions: carbonate, bicarbonate, and hydroxide. They all easily react with hydrogen ions to form more neutral compounds.


Basically, alkalinity measures how well the water can neutralize acids that are added to it. The acids can come from dissolved rock as well as from soil, acid rain, runoff, or industrial chemical discharge. When you have a pH level of 7, that means the water is neutral. Rainwater, which is between 6.2 and 6.8 pH, is pretty close to a neutral balance between alkalinity and acidity. I think all of that means that rainwater delivers water to plants which they can easily use in a healthy way.


That's about as much information that my not very scientifically minded mind can absorb. But it's kind of interesting to know what rainwater contains that helps to make plants thrive after a rain.


The next time you go outside to check on your flowers, trees and the vegetables in your garden after a rain, be thankful for the rainwater. It's just what the plants need. When the vegetables in your garden are healthier, you are likely to be a little healthier too after you eat those vegetables.


I'm glad I live in a part of the country where we don't cope with too much rain. It is heartbreaking on the news to see the devastation that people deal with when they've lost everything to a flood. Though our area suffers from drought and all the challenges that brings, it's encouraging to see how well plants perk up with just a little rainfall.


We learn through challenges to find something to be thankful for, no matter what our circumstances.

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Hunter Finds Rare American Chestnut Tree

In 2019, a hunter named Bret Lanan found what he thought was a mature American chestnut tree on the Coverdale Farm Preserve in Centreville, Delaware. It is about 50 years old, 70 feet tall, and at least 35 inches in diameter.


It doesn't seem like such a find would be impressive, but it actually is. A recent article written by Shannon Marvel McNaught in the Delaware News Journal, part of the USA Today Network, told about the remarkable find.


It is estimated that there once were about four billion American chestnut trees in forests of the eastern United States. That changed after a chestnut blight in New York infected the trees. The blight spread fast, and it wiped out most of the trees.


It didn't kill the roots, so new trees sprouted from the damaged trees' roots. Unfortunately, the blight attacked the sprouts, and they died young. Most American chestnut trees that did manage to survive are only an inch or less in diameter.


Today, the American chestnut tree is considered functionally extinct. So when Lanan found the chestnut tree on the Coverdale Farm Preserve, it was an important find. At first, there was concern the tree might be cross-pollinated with a Chinese chestnut, a common ornamental plant that hasn't been affected by the blight.


Once experts determined it really was an American chestnut tree, the Delaware Nature Society called the tree a precious resource. Not many people get a chance to see such a big American chestnut tree any more.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, The Village Blacksmith, describes the blacksmith as a mighty man standing "under a spreading chestnut tree." Except in pictures, most people wouldn't know what such a tree really looked like.


Now, thanks to hunter Bret Lanan's discovery, at least one huge American chestnut tree can still be seen. The farm preserve may give the tree some protection. Though it managed to escape the blight, it would be a shame for the tree to be damaged by curious people who might unintentionally harm it.


The Delaware Nature Society plans to collect its seeds this fall, and a plant-focused nonprofit, Mt. Cuba Center, has agreed to plant the seeds. They hope their efforts will help to bring the famous spreading chestnut tree back to more abundant life.

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Touched by a Tree

One of the things I enjoy is spending time in my front and back yards being around the trees. I don't have many trees, just a few spruce and juniper trees. The neighbor's elm would like to add some elm trees to my yard, but that's not going to happen.


One of the many good things about my dog is that she likes to eat baby elms. When I find an elm sprout, I pull it up, and my dog dives into it like it's a gourmet meal.


Trees have a calming effect on me. That calmness makes me want to spend more time outside with them. Other people tell me they like to be around trees for the same reason.


There's a trend on TikTok lately in which people take pictures of themselves standing by a tree. They ask the tree to touch their shoulder, and they have the most amazed looks on their faces when they say the tree actually did move one of its branches and tap them on the shoulder.


I tried that once, and nothing happened. But it's an intriguing idea to think that a tree might actually hear and understand what we ask it to do.


For me, the peace of mind I get while being near trees and the inspiring thoughts that sometimes come when I'm calm enough to hear them are priceless. Instead of tapping my shoulder, trees are tapping my mind and touching my heart.


When I'm outside admiring one of my trees, I find myself in a meditative state. Meditation can be difficult if I sit somewhere and try to focus on my breathing. For me, it's easier to get into a meditative state when I'm enjoying the beauty of the trees around me. All my worries and concerns fall away for a few moments as I think of nothing but the trees.


When you're in a peaceful state of mind around trees, it might be fun to stand close to one and ask it to touch your shoulder. It would be even more interesting if you have a camera toting friend with you. If your friend gets a picture of the tree touching your shoulder, you could put it on TikTok and join others who have been amazed when they've been touched by a tree.

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Special Trees Inspire Hope that World Peace Is Possible

When Jane Goodall thinks of hope, she thinks about three trees that suffered terribly but survived near impossible odds.


Goodall is best known for her study of the social and family life of chimpanzees. At first, she thought they were kinder than humans until she discovered that they can be aggressive and violent. She saw some females kill the young of other females in their group to maintain their dominance.


In spite of all the violence, prejudice, greed and racism in the world, Goodall has never given up on hope. She and Douglas Abrams with Gail Hudson wrote about hope in The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times. An article about the book appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Reader's Digest.


Goodall calls hope a crucial survival trait. When she thinks about hope, she remembers meeting two trees that survived impossible odds.


She was in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists killed so many people. Ten years later, she met a Callery pear tree that was at the site of the twin towers when they collapsed on 9/11. It was discovered one month after the event. The tree had been crushed between two blocks of cement.


Only half of the trunk remained, and it was charred black. Its roots were broken, and there was only one living branch. Rebecca Clough, the woman who found it, pleaded for the tree to be given a chance. It found a home in a Bronx nursery, where, over time and with much effort, it was nourished back to health. Once it was strong enough, the tree was transplanted in the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, where every spring its bright blossoms move people to tears.


Goodall met another amazing tree in Nagasaki, Japan. It is one of two 500-year-old camphor trees that survived after the second atomic bomb was dropped at the end of World War II. In the temperature as hot as the sun produced by the nuclear explosion, nothing was expected to survive. But somehow these two trees clung to life.


They were mutilated. Only the lower halves of the trunks were there. Most of the branches were gone, and no leaves remained. People took Goodall to see one of those trees. It's now quite large. Through many cracks in the trunk, visitors can see that it's all black inside. Even so, every spring the tree sprouts new leaves.


If those trees could survive such brutality, then there is hope for all of us, Goodall believes. That's one reason why she participated in the 2021 United Nations International Day of Peace in New York City.


Each year the UN International Day of Peace is observed around the world on Sept. 21. The United Nations calls on everyone to lay down their weapons on that day and reaffirm their commitment to live in harmony. Theme for the 2022 UN International Day of Peace is "End Racism. Build Peace."


For Goodall, the Survivor Tree and the two camphor trees represent the hope that world peace is possible.

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