20 10 2014

Long hosts of sunlight, and the bright wind blows
A tourney-trumpet on the listed hill;
Past is the splendour of the royal rose
And duchess daffodil.

Crowned queen of beauty, in the garden’s space,
Strong daughter of a bitter race and bold,
A ragged beggar with a lovely face,
Reigns the sad marigold.

And I have sought June’s butterfly for days,
To find it like a coreopsis bloom
Amber and seal, rain-murdered ‘neath the blaze
Of this sunflower’s plume.

Here drones the bee; and there sky-daring wings
Voyage blue gulfs of heaven; the last song
The red-bird flings me as adieu, still rings
Upon yon pear-tree’s prong.

No angry sunset brims with rubier red
The bowl of heaven than the days, indeed,
Pour in each blossom of this salvia-bed,
Where each leaf seems to bleed.

And where the wood-gnats dance, like some slight mist,
Above the efforts of the weedy stream,
The girl, October, tired of the tryst,
Dreams a diviner dream.

One foot just dipping the caressing wave,
One knee at languid angle; locks that drown
Hands nut-stained; hazel-eyed, she lies, and grave,
Watching the leaves drift down.

Madison Julius Cawein

willow creek 2

D. Raymond-Wryhte

High Carnival

19 10 2014

The forest holds high carnival today,
And every hillside glows with gold and fire;
Ivy and sumac dress in colors gay,
And oak and maple mask in bright attire.

The hoarded wealth of sober autumn days
In lavish mood for motley garb is spent,
And nature for the while at folly plays,
Knowing the morrow brings a snowy Lent.

Ellis Parker Butler

tree's eye view

Woodcraft 21: A Tree Limb

17 10 2014

Restless even in sleep, I woke early the next morning.  I could tell by the window light that the sun had not yet risen.  I got out of bed and looked out the window to see the morning star yet shining brightly within the rose and indigo of the awakening day.

I dressed and walked out of the bedroom.  Grandfather was up and in the bathroom.  Grandmother was up and in the kitchen.  That was their practice: like my mother’s parents, they went to bed with the chickens and got up with the chickens, even though my father’s parents didn’t have any.   No rooster crowed outdoors, but many songbirds sang loudly.

I walked through the kitchen, heading for the back door.  “My, my, Kurt. You’re up and around early.”

“Good morning, Grandmother. I couldn’t sleep anymore, so I thought I may as well get going.”

“And where are you going?”

“Out back.”

I stepped into the yard, anxious to have a look at the purple ash tree.  Hoping for a miracle, I also sought an answer to my prayers.

I had both heard and read the story of Aaron’s rod.  At some point during the forty years the Hebrew nation spent in the desert, a group representing a large faction of the people protested the authority of Moses and Aaron.  Evidently, this group of 250 leading citizens, as led by three others — Korah, Dathan, and Abiram — accused Moses and Aaron of being dictators, tyrants, despots.  They wanted more say and better representation, to include officiating in the religious rituals, and so they threatened rebellion.

The thing of it was, the Lord is the One in charge, and He doesn’t take kindly to rebels.  He is the King, and He had appointed Moses to be prime minister and Aaron to be archbishop.  So to speak.  In other words, Moses was the leader, and Aaron was the high priest.  An entire constitution of ethical, civil, and religious procedure was being written, which we now call the Mosaic Law.  And that was the way it was to be.  An earthquake came to bury Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.  Fire came to consume the other 250 leaders of the opposition.

And the Lord told Moses, “I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel.”  He told Moses to collect twelve rods from the Hebrew nation, one from each of the elected leaders of the twelve tribes.  The rods were to have the names of each leader inscribed.  He told Moses to place all twelve rods, along with Aaron’s, in the Tabernacle overnight.

By the next morning, as it is written, “Behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.  And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord unto all the children of Israel, and they looked and took every man his rod.  And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony to be kept for a token against the rebels, and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from Me, that they die not’.”

I hoped to see that Grandfather’s tree had also gone from death to life overnight.  I looked, just as the rays of the sun shot from the northeast to shine the tree.  Nothing.  It stood completely wilted.  Dead leaves fell in the breeze to the ground.

I was crestfallen.

Grandfather came out of the house.  He swung on his crutches to the place I stood.  “What’s the matter, Konrad?”

“I prayed for your tree,” I said.  “I was hoping for an answer this morning.”

“Ah.  And do you have an answer?”

I merely pointed at the tree.

Grandfather nodded.  “So I see.”

“I’m sorry, Grandfather.”

We stood together in silence for a time.

Then Grandfather said, “Well.  It’s soon time for breakfast.  Come inside, Konrad.”

“I’m not hungry.”


I shook my head.

“Come with me, then.”

I followed him into the garage.  He went to the work bench, selected a pruning saw, and handed it to me.  “Go and cut the tree down.”


“You heard me, my grandson.  Go and cut the tree down.  Cut it as low to the ground as you can.  Then cut off all the branches above the first fork in the trunk.  That’s above the first fork, not below.”  He handed me a pair of pruning shears.  “Then cut the branches into small pieces and put the slash into the garbage cans near the alley.  Bring the trunk of the tree to me.”

I held both tools, but I stood still and stared at Grandfather.

“Go ahead, Konrad,” he ordered.  “Get to work.”

I went back to the tree, and he went back into the house.

I was waiting for him, sitting in my chair on the patio, when he came out the back door after breakfast.  I stood as he approached.  The trunk of the ash tree leaned against his chair.  Taking it, I held it out to him with both hands.

Grandfather looked at me.  I know he could tell that my eyes had been crying, that he could see the tear stains on my cheeks.  He took the wood and said, “Thank you, Konrad.”  Then he looked at the ash from one end to the other; he hefted it in his hand.  He nodded.  “Have you worked up an appetite for breakfast?” he asked.

“No, sir.”

“I understand.  Well, then.  Go inside and clean up.  Then speak with your grandmother.  Tell her I require a lunch prepared and packed for us.”



“We’re all going on a picnic today?”

“Not all.  You and I.  You and I are going out today.”


“Later.  I’ll tell you later.  Go and help your grandmother make the lunch for us.”

He placed one of his crutches on his patio chair.  With the other crutch and carrying the ash, he hobbled into the garage.

I went into the house.

Grandmother didn’t ask many questions about why Grandfather and I needed a lunch to go.  Perhaps she had long since learned not to ask too many questions of her husband.  I believe, however, that she was pleased we were going to do something.  Something, anything, was good.  She wanted August to liven up, to live life again.

Joanna had gone out to see what Grandfather was doing.  She came in and passed through the kitchen without saying anything.  In a minute, she passed back through carrying a paper grocery bag that seemed to have stuff in it.

“What have you got, Joanna?” Grandmother asked.

“It’s a secret.”

“A secret?”

Joanna went out the door without saying anything else.  We watched her go into the garage.

Mother came into the kitchen.  She had been cleaning the bathroom after everyone’s morning use.

“Something’s going on,” Grandmother said.


“We don’t know yet.”

Joanna stepped out of the garage, closing the door behind her.  She came into the house.  “Grandfather says you are to move our car out of the driveway,” she told Mother.

“What?” Grandmother asked.

“Grandfather says…”

“I know, Joanna.  I heard you.  But why?  What is your grandfather up to?”

“It’s a secret.”  Joanna looked at Mother.

She shrugged and said, “Okay.  I’ll move the car.”

That took only a matter of minutes.  Mother again came to the kitchen and took a stand at the door to the dining room.  Grandmother stood near the sink.  I sat at the table with the lunch near at hand.  Joanna was at the door to the utility room as if she were standing guard, keeping us from going out the back door of the house.  We stared at her.  She just shrugged her shoulders.

Eventually, we heard the rumble of an engine.  It wasn’t the one in Mother’s Chevrolet; she hadn’t left it running on the street.  It came from the garage, and then from outside the garage.  Next we heard the sound of a horn: two honks.

Joanna spun around and ran out the back door.  The rest of us followed.

Outside, we saw Grandfather standing next to his Studebaker pickup truck, it’s engine idling, the door to the driver’s side open.  “Konrad, where’s our lunch?”

I ran into the house, grabbed it, and ran back out.

“Whatever is going on here?” Grandmother demanded.

“Konrad and I are going for a walk, woman.  That’s all.”

“A what?”

“A walk.  You know.  Something I’ve done all my life?”

“A walk.”

“Yes.  Like this.”  Grandfather starting doing just that.  He pulled a staff from the bed of the truck and held it in his left hand.  At the top, there was a crook.  He hooked his thumb over it and held the staff in a firm grip.  He then walked toward us, doing so on a peg somehow attached to his left leg.  He limped, of course, but he walked over to me, took the lunch into his right hand, turned, walked back to the truck, and put the lunch inside the cab.

Joanna clapped.

Grandfather held his right hand out toward me.  “Come along, Konrad.  Get into the truck.”

“But August…” Grandmother began.

Grandfather waved, giving her that pooh-pooh signal.

I walked over, looking at him, and then at his staff.

He held it out so I could have a better look.  “What do you think?”  He held out his left leg and gave his new peg a rap with his new walking stick.

“That’s the ash?”

“It is the ash. I cut the trunk into two pieces. The upper portion I made into this cane.  The lower portion I fashioned into a different kind of tree limb.”

“What do you think?” I asked.  “Father says that artificial limbs are to be made of willow.”

“Your father isn’t here.  And this is what you gave me.  This is better.”

I nodded.

“You made that out of that beat-up ash tree?” Grandmother asked.

“And out of some straps and padding and the rubber off a big plunger.”  That must have been the stuff Joanna carried to the garage, Grandfather having collected it earlier. None of it was visible. Grandfather had everything except the wood inside the left leg of his pants, the cuff folded up and tied with a string at the top of the peg.  “Konrad helped.  He did a lot of the preliminary work.”

I shook my head.

Grandfather put a hand to my shoulder.  “Konrad, allow me to paraphrase something said by Henry David Thoreau.  To see a tree reappear like this, instead of going to the fire or some equally coarse use, is some compensation for having cut it down.  Don’t you agree?”

I didn’t answer.  I didn’t know how to answer.

“I’ll show you.  Get into the truck.”

“Where are you two going?” Grandmother demanded.

“Out.  Back to our forest. Konrad hasn’t yet experienced a virgin stand of trees.”

You’re driving?” Grandmother asked.

“Of course I am.”

“With that peg leg?”

“Why not?”

Mother offered, “August, let’s all go in my Impala.  There’s room in the car, and there’s room in the day.  We can all have an outing, and I’ll drive.”

“Yeah!” Joanna yelled.  “I want to go, too!”

“Granddaughter,” Grandfather said, “I took you rowing on the Fox River and into Lake Winnebago the other day.  Remember?  Now it is time for me to do something with your brother, just the two of us.  You can come along another time.  Soon.”

Joanna nodded.

Grandfather added, “Go into the house and open the refrigerator.  Inside, you’ll find a brown paper bag containing one of your grandmother’s quart-size canning jars.  Bring it to me.”

Joanna ran off.

“At least take the Lark,” Grandmother said.  “It has the automatic transmission.”

“We’ll take the truck,” Grandfather insisted.  “It’ll do better on the forest trails.”

“But your leg…”

“You’ve been wanting me to do something like this for weeks.”

“Your blood sugar…”

“I’ll manage,” Grandfather insisted. “I can do this.”

Joanna brought the bag with the jar in it.  “What’s in it?” she asked.

“Shhh.  Another secret.”


woodcraft 8

Like a Palm

11 10 2014

palm sun day

“The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree…”  (Psalm 92:12)

Woodcraft 20: Live Wood Friday

9 10 2014

The purple ash tree looked really bad the next morning.

Grandfather had taken his seat on the patio, as usual.  I didn’t.  I stood staring at the tree from that distance for a minute or two, and then I walked over to inspect it more closely.  The color of the leaves could barely be called green.  They were horribly wilted, and I could see brown spots here and there.  The entire tree smelled dry, like the leaf litter of late October.

I walked back to Grandfather, asking, “What’s wrong with that tree?”

“It’s dying.”

I neglected to take a seat next to him.  Instead, I stood staring.  “Dying?  What?  Still not enough water?”  I thought a little.  “Do you have a hose and a sprinkler?  Maybe I should hook that all up and really give it a shower.”

“A shower from a sprinkler won’t do it any good. A shower of rain won’t do it any good.”



“Why not?”

Grandfather said simply, “You’ve killed the tree, my grandson.”

I stood still, petrified.  I looked at him, at his face, at his eyes.  I looked at the tree.  Then I looked back at him.  All I could say was, “What do you mean?”

“The work you performed on the tree.  You cut away all the vascular tissue.  You girdled the trunk from bottom to top. The roots can no longer send water and minerals up to the leaves. The leaves can no longer send sugar and starch down to the roots.”

I shook my head, not in disagreement, but in disbelief.  I didn’t understand.  There was a lot of tree left standing there.  I asked again, “What do you mean?”

“Konrad, trees are not pipes.  Fluid doesn’t flow up and down throughout the entire trunk.  Most of the trunk is, well, timber.  Lumber.  It’s wood.  The part that is living and critical to the tree is between the wood and the bark.”

He pointed to my chair.  “Take a seat.”

I did, though I found it hard to relax.

“You see — or you could have seen in the process of your work if you had gone slowly and carefully, and if you had one of my magnifying glasses with you — a tree trunk has layers.”

“Rings,” I said.  I had seen those often enough in my father’s shop.

“Yes, though there is more to it.  We can easily see the bark of a tree.  It comes in a variety of colors and configurations.  Bark can come in brown, orange, cinnamon, white, gray, greenish.  Bark can look smooth and it can look rough; it can look like scales, plates, strips, sheets, furrows and fissures, even warts.    There is so much variation, in fact, that we can use the bark of a tree to help identify its species.

“Bark, however, comes in layers.  The outermost layer is called the cork.  It is waterproof, and sometimes all but fireproof.  It protects the tree from the weather, from insects, from fungi, and from other damaging agents.  Beneath the cork is the cortex, and beneath that is the cork cambium.  That third layer is the place where cork cells are manufactured.

“Beneath the cork cambium is the innermost bark layer called the phloem.  This is the conduit, the pipeline that carries the sugars and starches from the leaves into the branches, trunk, and roots.

“Next is the vascular cambium.  It’s a very thin layer, only one cell in thickness, yet it is the layer responsible for most of the tree’s growth.  It manufactures phloem cells for the inner bark and xylem cells for the sapwood.

“The sapwood is the next layer in.  It’s the xylem, the conduit, the pipeline for carrying water and chemical nutrients collected by the roots from the soil up into the tree.  Scientists still don’t know how a tree is able to lift so many gallons up dozens, even hundreds of feet against the force of gravity.

“Eventually, the xylem cells become clogged with waste products.  They die by the end of summer and are contributed to the heartwood of the tree.  That’s the part we use for lumber.  While yet in the tree, these cells of cellulose work to support the crown of limbs, branches, twigs in the sky where the leaves can get as much sunlight as possible.

“It is these xylem cells that make the rings of a tree.  The lighter colored wood was produced in the spring of the ring’s year; the darker wood was produced during the summer.

“Finally, at the very center of the tree trunk is the pith, a narrow cylinder of cells that stores food.

“Now, Konrad.  Notice what I said.  The heartwood of a tree is dead cellulose.  It has a function, but not that of transporting food and water throughout the tree.  The living xylem and phloem do that, as perpetually manufactured by the living cambium.  Cut away those layers, and you cut the tree’s throat.  Tie a cable or a rope around the trunk of a tree and leave it there long enough, and you strangle a tree.

“Trees are tough; they’re built to live in tough conditions.  But living trees are not fence posts and telephone poles.  They can’t be whacked and chopped and beaten and mauled and stay healthy.  Trees may live indefinitely, but they can be killed.”

“But Grandfather,” I said with tears coming to my eyes.  “I didn’t mean to hurt your tree.  I was trying to make it better.  I wanted it to grow straight and tall.  I wanted it to be strong and look good.  I was trying to do something good for you.”

Grandfather nodded.  “I have a hard saying for you, my grandson, one that most people refuse to accept because it hits as hard as a hickory cane.”  He quoted a proverb recorded twice in the Bible, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

I felt both shock and shame, so much so that I began crying openly.

After several minutes, I said through my sobbing, “Is there nothing that can be done?”

“Are you are praying man, Konrad?” Grandfather asked.


“Speak with the Creator, then, the God of Life.  He is the One who knows the ways of all living things, how they live and how they ought to live.  He is the One who tells us how to avoid the ways of death.  He is the One who quickens, who resurrects from death to life.”

I did just that.  And not for a minute or two, either.  I spent the entire day — morning, afternoon, and evening —  in all but unceasing prayer.  I felt so badly about what had happened that I could hardly take any interest in anything else.

I struggled with what to say and how to say it.  As I had said to my grandfather, I was already one who made it a practice to pray.  We as a family prayed before meals, even in public, my father leading.  We usually had a time of family prayer immediately following breakfast.  Mother always tried to have breakfast early enough so that there would be time for all us to have a say before we commenced the day’s activities.  There were individual prayers before going to bed at night.  There were the prayers in church and the prayers in school.

Yet, in all that, I only tended to redundantly repeat myself over and over again. I prayed for my parents, for my father’s work and for his safety, for my sister, for my grandparents, for the church and for the school, for fellow classmates, for the President of the United States … the usual drill, and all in a matter of seconds.  I had not really had occasion, I had not yet felt the need or the desire really to wrestle with God, to commune and converse with God, about anything.  Not the way Moses did.  Or Joshua.  Hannah.  Samuel.  David.  Elijah.  Jeremiah.  Daniel.  Jesus Christ Himself.  Peter and John and Paul and James.  I was young, just a kid.  I lived in a stable family with devoted parents who had a decent income.  I lived in the great state of Wisconsin, the dairy state, the state with the reputation at the time for good, clean, and progressive government.  I lived in the great United States of America, the land of liberty, the land of opportunity, the land of prosperity.

Ah, but now, now there arose a passion, an intense desire to tug at God and implore Him to listen to me, to little me.  I wanted help.  I needed help.  But not just for me.  For my grandfather.  I needed help doing what I couldn’t do, what couldn’t be done.

I wanted God to listen.  In that effort, I went so far as to borrow my grandmother’s Bible: Die Bibel oder die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments.  Her Bible was printed in German employing a translation based on the work of Martin Luther himself.  Both my grandmother and grandfather read their Bibles in German as well as in English. They still spoke in German, though rarely in the presence of their grandchildren and only occasionally in the presence of their children.

Such discretion had been forced upon them by the American jingoism of World War 1.  That word jingo refers to patriotism taken way too far.  Not only naïve to the point of foolishness, it’s also belligerent to the point of violence.  The late 19th century and the early 20th century was a time characterized, in part, by intense nationalism, even imperialism.  That intensity exploded in World War 1.

We still have places in these Untied States called New England, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, even New Mexico.  There was a time when much of the Midwest was considered New Germany, with Milwaukee its unofficial capital.  Milwaukee was considered Der Deutsche Athen: the German Athens.  The Grunderzeit, or good times, lasted about forty years.

Then, when the United States sided with France and Great Britain and declared war on Germany and its Axis allies, the good times ended.  War was declared on Germans in America.  German farmers reluctant to endorse violence against family members and friends still in the Fatherland got their barns painted yellow.  German books were burned.  The singing of Silent Night was banned.

Names were changed.  Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage.  The Deutsche Club became the Wisconsin Club.  Germania, the largest German-language publishing company in the nation and headquarters for the Germania-Herald newspaper, became Milwaukee America.

Speaking and teaching in the German language had already become illegal in schools.  The Bennett Law of the 1890s, a result of nationalistic fervor, had seen to that.  But during the First World War, it became all but illegal to speak German anywhere in public.  Even children would be thrown off buses and expelled from playgrounds if they were heard speaking German.

So, both my father’s parents — who were not married at the time — learned to keep their ethnic language to themselves.

But I heard them speak it together from time to time when they were alone and thought no one was paying any attention.  And I thought that, if it was still important enough to them to speak it and read it, it may be important to God, too.  They read their Bibles in German.  That meant that God spoke to them in German.  Maybe they prayed to God in German, as well.

I thought I should try it.  Maybe God would hear me better if I did.  I knew no German, of course.  I was still trying to learn English.  Nevertheless, I borrowed Grandmother’s Bible.  I looked up Matthew, chapter 6.  I could recognize the Gospel because the German Matthäi  is so similar to the English Matthew.  German numerals match English numerals: they are both Arabic.  I found what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer, starting in verse 9 and continuing through verse 13.  And then I prayed it as best I could.

Now, I had already been taught by my father and my mother that the prayer is not to be employed as a religious ritual, and certainly not as a magic incantation.  They taught me that the prayer is a model, a pattern.  As Jesus said, “After this manner therefore pray ye…”  Think of God as a Father and relate to Him as such.  Revere Him and all that His Name stands for.  Recognize His Kingdom and His Lordship authority.  Be obedient to His will.  Address daily needs.  Confess committed sins.  Forgive sins committed.  Be led away from temptation.  Be delivered from evil and the Evil One. And so on.

I wanted, however, to speak to my heavenly Father in German for the benefit of my earthly grandfather:

Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel, geheileget werde dein Name.  Dein Reich komme.  Dein Wille geschehe wie im Himmel, also auch auf Erden.  Unser täglich Brot gieb uns heute.  Und vergieb uns unsere Schuld, als wir vergeben unsern Schuldigern.  Und führe uns nicht in Bersuchung.  Sondern erlöse uns von dem Uebel.  Denn dein ist das Reich und die Kraft und die Herrlichkeit in Fwigkeit.  Amen.

woodcraft 7

Woodcraft 19: Live Wood Thursday

8 10 2014

We were out on the patio again the following morning by 7 o’clock.  I looked at the purple ash tree, and it didn’t look well.  The leaves, obviously wilted, had lost their luster and had instead become drab and dull.

“That tree must need more water than other trees,” I said.  I figured as much based on what my other grandfather had said about plants on his farm.  Corn, for example, needs more water than potatoes or wheat.  Timothy needs more water than brome.

I had seen the same thing in my mother’s flower gardens.  Her fuchsias needed to be watered more frequently than her geraniums, impatiens more than marigolds, delphiniums more than hollyhocks.

So, I got out Grandmother’s bucket and proceeded to water the ash tree again.  Grandfather watched, saying nothing.

I asked, “Where is the best place to put the water?  Near the trunk?  Can the tree get it faster or easier that way?”

“That’s true for seedlings and saplings.  As a tree gets larger, though, the roots spread out more and more.  The more widespread the root system, the better it is to water a tree the way the rain does.”

“All over evenly,” I said.


“So how far do roots go under a tree?”

“Well, the common wisdom has been that, in good soil, a tree’s roots more or less match a tree’s branches.  That is, it’s been thought that the roots go down as far as the branches go up, and that roots go out as far as the branches go out.  The notion is really rather inexact, however.  It’s true that some trees do send roots down deep.  The hickory, for example: it has a deep-driving taproot.  In most cases, though, a tree’s roots stay within four feet of ground level.  That’s where the tree will find most of its water and most of its minerals.  As for the extent of the system, that can be surprising.  Roots can and do grow well beyond the lateral reach of the branches above.  You can model it this way: put a goblet on a dinner plate.”

“A what?”


“What’s a goblet?”

“A wine glass.”

“We don’t drink.”

Ach.  That’s true.  I forgot.”  Grandfather paused to think.  “All right, then.  Try this.  Think of an ice pop.  Now pretend that your mother insists that you hold it over a paper plate so you won’t make a mess of yourself.  The wooden stick is the tree trunk.  The frozen orange stuff represents the tree’s crown with all its branches and leaves.  Think of it, perhaps, as a sugar maple in its autumn glory.  Put the bottom end of the stick on the plate and hold it.  The plate represents the relative extent of root growth.”

I nodded. “Now you’ve made me hungry for one.”

“We just had breakfast. You ate better than I did, or was allowed to. And you had real orange juice.”

“This afternoon,” I said.  “When it’s hot.  That’s when they taste the best.  Let’s get some  ‘cicles this afternoon.”

“I can’t,” Grandfather protested.  “If your Grandmother sees me trying to eat one, she will wrap her fingers around my throat to keep me from swallowing it.”

“She wouldn’t do that.”

“You know what I mean,” Grandfather said.  “But, if the ice cream boy comes around today, I’ll see what I can do for you.”

Ice cream boy.  Back then, if a municipality was big enough, younger teenaged males had opportunity to earn a little money during summer vacation by selling frozen treats in various neighborhoods.  The dealers had special rigs for them.  They were tricycles, except they went backwards, so to speak.  The two wheels were out front, and over the axle was mounted a chest.  Inside the chest was a load of ice cream bars, ice pops, and other confections kept frozen by a quantity of dry ice: super-cooled carbon dioxide.  The chest had handlebars attached, and on the handle bars was a set of jingle bells.  The driver sat on a bicycle seat mounted in front of the rear wheel.

An enterprising boy would pedal the rig around and around within his assigned sales territory and jingle those bells to let people know he was passing through.  Kids, and adults, would dash out to the street and wave him to a stop.  He would sell what he had to offer and make change using one of those nifty steel coin holders he wore on his belt.  He could put coins in slots in the top.  He could eject coins by pushing little plungers.  Back then, coins could buy a lot of stuff, and both men and women carried coin purses.  Those frozen treats?  They cost ten cents each.

I hauled four buckets of water out to the tree.  I didn’t just dump the water near the trunk, as I had done the day before.  I tried slopping it around.

When finished, I took my chair again and said, “That tree must really be thirsty.  I hope that’s enough.”  I felt as though I had had a morning workout.

“Trees can pump a lot of water, when they’re healthy,” Grandfather said.  “A big willow growing in its preferred site, near a creek or a marsh, can pump fifty gallons a day.”

I did a little arithmetic in my head.  Four buckets of five gallons each came to twenty gallons.  (That was a calculation I could handle.)  “So twenty gallons of water may not be enough now.”

“Ash trees are not willows,” Grandfather said.  “That one is a special cultivar of white ash, actually.  White ash trees tend to favor sunny, well-drained high ground.  They like the company of oak, hickory, beech, basswood, black cherry, and red maple.  Of the six species of ash that grow here in the eastern half of the country, it’s the most abundant, and it gets to be the biggest: up to 120 feet tall in good forest conditions.  And it typically produces the best color in the autumn.”

“White ash,” I said.  “It doesn’t turn white in the fall, does it?  If there are so many of them around, I’ve never seen such a thing.”

“No, Konrad.  The white ash doesn’t turn white in autumn.  Maybe in winter with fresh, wet snow or hoarfrost.  But then, most trees turn white in such events.  No, the white ash gets its name — to distinguish it from other ash trees, I suppose — because the undersides of its leaves are pale.  They are a whitish green in comparison with the dark green topsides.”


“Has your father told you what is to be made of white ash wood?”

“Sure.  Tool handles: shovels, spades, forks, hoes, rakes, and such.  Sports items such as baseball bats and hockey sticks and tennis racquets.  Oars and paddles for boats.  Furniture, at least certain parts.”

“Very good, Konrad.  I am impressed.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Grandfather continued.  “Now black ash is more like a willow in that it prefers sites that are on low ground and near water, whether underground or nearby in a river or swamp.  It likes the company of northern white cedar, balsam fir, red maple, and yellow birch, among others.”

“Let me guess,” I said.  “It doesn’t turn black in the fall.  The name comes from something else about the tree.”

“The twigs.  The terminal buds of the twigs are quite dark.”

I could only guess as to the definition of a terminal bud.

“Do you know the uses of black ash wood?”

I thought for a while.  I couldn’t recall my father using it or speaking of it.  “No.”

“That’s not surprising.  It isn’t employed as much as it used to be.  In times past, people would cut the fresh green wood into strips to make baskets and hoops.”

I nodded.

“There is green ash,” Grandfather said.  “It’s the most widely distributed of the ashes, which means it has the biggest range.  Here in the Midwest, it likes the company of boxelder, red maple, silver maple, cottonwood, willow, bottomland oaks and hickories.  It looks like a lousy version of the majestic white ash, and its wood is used for the same purposes.  That’s if a logger can find a green ash that doesn’t have a poorly formed trunk.  But it’s a tough tree, quite adaptable to a variety of sites and conditions.  It’s good for windbreaks, for example.  It gets its name because the difference in leaf color top and bottom isn’t as distinct as it is on white ash.”

Grandfather continued.  “And there’s blue ash.  It’s relatively rare.  It can be found in moist bottomlands, but it is especially adapted to dry limestone heights.  The tree is the most drought resistant of the American ashes.  The name comes from its sap, which turns blue when exposed to air.  Pioneers used to mash the inner bark with water to make a dye for cloth.”

“So there are five kinds of ash trees,” I said.

“Sixteen, actually,” said Grandfather.  “Sixteen in these United States.  Sixty-five worldwide.  And the purple ash doesn’t count.  As I said, it’s a cultivar of white ash.”

Grandfather asked, “Have you heard of Yggdrasill?”

I shook my head, as though startled.  “Have I heard of what?”

“Yggdrasill.  The World Ash Tree.”

“No.  Definitely not.”

“It was known to our ancient Teutonic ancestors, and to their Norse brethren,” Grandfather said.  “The tree was of cosmic proportions.  One of its roots reached Jotunheim, the place of the giants.  One of its roots reached Niffleheim, the place of darkness and cold.  And one of its roots reached Asgard, the place of the gods.”

“There is no such tree, is there?”

“You don’t think so?  What about the Tree of Life, mentioned in the Bible?”

“In the Garden of Eden,” I said.  “Well…”  I had to think for a while.  “As far as I know, there is no Eden anymore.  No one has ever found Eden, or the place where Eden used to be.  So I suppose there no longer is a Tree of Life.”

“But it’s the Tree of Life,” Grandfather said.  “Can it really be dead?”

“Hmmm…”  That didn’t sound good.  How could the Tree of Life die?  I mean, it was evidently a special creation of God.  When Adam and Eve rebelled against the Word of God and were expelled from the Garden, God saw to it that angels guarded the Tree of Life, keeping them from an inappropriate return, from eating of its fruit at an inopportune time.  Its fruit would enable a person to live forever.

“The Genesis account says that the way to the Tree was kept by the cherubim and the flaming sword,” Grandfather said.  “Does that mean that the Tree was guarded against sinful men and women?”


“Does it also mean that the Tree was preserved, that the way to the Tree was protected and maintained, so that access would always be available?”

“Does it?”  I hadn’t thought about that before.

“The Revelation account of John says that the Tree of Life will be growing in the New Jerusalem.  It says that the Tree will be growing on both sides of the River of Life.  It says that the Tree will yield fruit every month, and that the leaves will be for the healing of the nations.  It says that those who keep the commandments of Christ will have right to the Tree of Life.  Perhaps we can think of that as right-of-way.  Jesus Christ says that those who overcome will be allowed to eat of the Tree of Life.”

“So do you think the Tree still exists?” I asked.

Grandfather answered, “I often wonder if there isn’t some seed, some cutting kept somewhere safe.”

“Do you think that the Tree of Life is an ash tree?”

Grandfather smiled.  “That would be telling.”


woodcraft 3

Woodcraft 18: Live Wood Wednesday

7 10 2014

The next morning, at the conclusion of breakfast, my grandfather said to me, “Well now, Konrad.  Let us go out to the patio.”

We got up from the table in the dining room, leaving my sister, my mother, and my grandmother to do as they wished.  We went through the kitchen.  I held the back door open, and Grandfather swung through.  He selected a chair and, prior to taking a seat, pointed with a crutch at another.  There I sat.

And we sat, looking back toward the alley.  Grandfather said nothing, though I could see he was looking at the purple ash tree.  I looked at it myself.  I focused on the tree’s trunk at first to review my handiwork now that some eighteen hours had passed.  Yes, it still looked like a good job to me.

I looked at Grandfather, who still studied the tree.  I looked back at it.  After a couple minutes, I looked elsewhere.  The ash was the only tree on Grandfather’s property, but it wasn’t the only tree in the neighborhood.  Most grew in the front yards of the rows of houses lining the streets.  Quite a number, however, grew in back yards.  Front and back, the population consisted mostly of maples, plus some willows and spruces.  A few others existed that I could not name.  All tended to be on the small side, none having achieved the size suitable for, say, a tire swing or a tree house.  Nevertheless, most seemed noticeably bigger than the ash.

As I compared the ash with the others, I noticed something.  The ash tree’s leaves didn’t look as green as those on the other trees; they didn’t look as fresh.  “Grandfather, do the leaves on the purple ash look wilted to you?”

“I believe so, Konrad.  Yes.”

“Does the tree need some water?”

“The leaves certainly do.”

“How long has it been since you’ve had rain here?”

“Eleven days.”

I nodded.  “Would you like me to water the tree, Grandfather?”

Grandfather took up a crutch to use again as a pointer.  “There’s a spigot.  See?”


“Your grandmother has a bucket in the utility room inside.  Otherwise, you’ll find a couple more in the garage.”

I had seen the one in the utility room.  I went in to get it.  Back outside, I carried it to the spigot, set it underneath, and turned the handle.  “How much water should I use?”

“Generally speaking, growing plants in this part of the country like about an inch of rain a week.”

I didn’t know how to translate such an amount of rainfall into buckets.  That would make a good story problem for arithmetic back in school, I figured.

“Think of filling a pool within the drip line of the tree one inch deep,” Grandfather said.

“Drip line?”

“Think of the crown of the tree as an open umbrella.  Rain hits the umbrella and rolls off.  Correct?  It rolls to the outside edge of the umbrella and drizzles away to the ground.  The drip line of a tree is what you could consider the circle under the outside edge of the umbrella of leaves.”

“Oh.”  I studied the ash tree and the lawn area underneath.  I looked at the bucket.

“That’s a five-gallon pail, if it helps,” Grandfather said.

It didn’t.  Not really.  My knowledge of mathematics hadn’t gotten as far as to inform me that the area of a circle drawn at the average distance from the tree trunk to the drip line would be p multiplied by the square of the radius, or one half of the circumference multiplied by the radius.  If I took my measurements in inches, then all I would need to do next is multiply the area by one — the one-inch depth — to get what I needed in cubic inches of water.

A gallon contains 231 cubic inches. I could have calculated the volume of that bucket by multiplying the top radius by the bottom radius and adding that to the square of the top radius and the square of the bottom radius, multiply all that by the height, multiply all that by p, and then divide all that by three.  That assumes that I would have measured the thing in inches.  But I didn’t know all that.

My grandfather did.  He was a forester.  Foresters have to know such math in order to do forest mensuration, surveying, and engineering.  He knew, but he wasn’t telling.

I just guessed.  “How about two buckets?”

“Close enough.”

I filled the bucket to the top and carried it to the tree.  I had to use both hands because, at my young age, it was heavy.  A gallon of water weighs about 8.33 pounds.  Five gallons weighs almost 42 pounds.  I suspect I lost a couple pounds along the way, slopping and spilling.  I dumped the bucket in the shade of the tree near the trunk.

I went back, filled the bucket again, hauled it again, and dumped it again.

Then I proceeded to take the bucket back into the house.

“Your grandmother has an old towel in the utility room there.  You may use it to wipe out the pail.”

It wasn’t that the pail was dirty.  All I had put into it was water, but that was one of the many maintenance practices that my grandfather performed, even though a pail may be made of rust-resistant galvanized steel.  “That’s fine,” he would say.  “And you can then make it rust proof if you wipe it dry after each use.”

I came back out to the patio and resumed my seat.

And there we sat.  Just sat.  Grandfather said nothing.  That left me hearing nothing other than the occasional car traveling the street and some mid-summer birdsong.  I didn’t know birds all that well.  Robins were common, and it is the state bird of Wisconsin, so I knew that one by sight and by sound.  I also knew the sounds of blue jays and cardinals and mourning doves and crows.  That was about it.

“What time is it, Grandfather?”

“About a quarter past seven.” He hadn’t looked at a thing prior to giving his answer, or so I thought.

“How do you know that?”

“The sun.”

“You can tell time by the sun?”

“The sun moves across the sky at a reliable pace.  As long as one can see it, or the shadows it casts, one can use it as a time piece.”

“Well, yeah, but you can’t get that close to telling the time, can you?”

Grandfather reached into his pocket.  He didn’t wear a wrist watch; he still used a nice-looking gold pocket watch, the kind that had the door that flips open and clicks shut.  He pressed the release and held it out for me to see without looking at it himself.

“7:13,” I read out loud.

Grandfather closed the door and put the watch back into his pocket.

And there we sat.  Grandfather continued not to say anything.  I looked at him now and again, and he looked as though he were sitting in church, listening.

I was used to sitting in church.  We did it every Sunday: Dad, Mom, Joanna, and I.  Because Dad was Lutheran, like his parents, we went to a Lutheran church on Sunday mornings.  Mom was Baptist, like her parents, but we went to the Lutheran church anyway on Sunday mornings.  We went to a Baptist church on Sunday evenings and on Wednesday evenings otherwise.  Except during Lent.  Then we would attend Lutheran services on Wednesdays.

Anyway, I sat in church fairly well.  Both Mom and Dad trained Joanna and me to be silent and reverent, even if we weren’t able all the time to be attentive.  They understood that.  They would translate some of the hymns and what the minister had said in his sermon for our benefit after church, but not understanding, or getting tired or bored, was no excuse for getting rowdy.  We learned how to sit still and be quiet.

I remember my mother telling Joanna and me about Samuel, a prophet, priest, and last of the judges of Israel who ministered at the time of Saul and Jonathan and David. He had been dedicated by his mother, Hannah, to the Lord’s service prior to his birth.  His mother had placed him in that service at the Tabernacle with Eli when he was still a child.  Mother told us the story of how Samuel, as a child, had himself started hearing the Word of the Lord.  The Lord spoke to him the first time at night, with everything quiet and still.  Mother wanted us to know how to be quiet and still so that we might know the Word of the Lord.

I worked hard at being quiet and still that morning with Grandfather, but there was nothing happening: no organ playing music, no man in a black robe reading the Bible or speaking about the Bible, no pretty stained-glass windows.  I liked stained-glass windows.  I liked the colors, the lighting, the pictures.  I even liked the workmanship.  They helped me sit still and be quiet in church.  But there was nothing there in that back yard.  Or so I thought.

“What time is it?” I asked again.

“Not quite 7:30.”

I didn’t challenge Grandfather’s estimate, even though it had seemed more like an hour had passed, not fifteen minutes or so.  Fifteen minutes made an entire recess at school.  We kids could do a great deal in fifteen minutes.  What was I doing then?

Grandfather spoke.  “Konrad, have you ever pretended to be a tree?”

I looked at him.

He looked at me.

No, the thought had never crossed my mind, so I wondered how to answer.

Grandfather asked, “Have you ever thought about what it would be like being a tree?”

I spoke what already was on my mind.  “Boring, I suppose.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well…”  I thought for a moment or two.  “Trees don’t do anything.  They just stand there.”

“Ah.  They stand there.  Rooted in the same place for decades.  In some cases, they stand in the same place for centuries.  In a few, they stand in the same place for millennia, for two or three or even four thousand years: the redwood, the sequoia, the bristlecone pine.  We have a bristlecone pine in this nation of ours that is four thousand six hundred years old.  Do you know how old that is?”

“Forty-six hundred years,” I answered.

Grandfather smiled.  “Ja.  Forty-six hundred years.  That means that tree was already mature when Abraham was born.  That tree lives in what we now say is California.  Imagine the tree living in what the Lord said through the prophet Zechariah is the Holy Land.  That tree would have been present to experience most of what has been described in the Bible.  It would be able yet to experience perhaps some or all of what the Bible says is yet to come.  As John Muir said, there is no fixed limit to the lifespan of a tree.  Parts may age: leaves, twigs, branches, roots.  Cells die, and new cells are made.  Trees live.  Unless something or someone kills them, trees live.  They live on, standing still, waiting in ultimate patience for the providence of their Creator, waiting for the sunlight and atmosphere and water and minerals they need to live and live on.”

“Have you pretended to be a tree?” I asked.

“Oh, yes.  Many times.  Sometimes for an entire day.  Sometimes for an entire night.”


“Yes,” Grandfather insisted.  “I have many times just stood — or sat, to be honest — in the woods as though I were a tree.”

I stared at him in wonder.

He quoted, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”  He asked, “Have you heard the name Henry David Thoreau yet, Konrad?”

I thought for a moment.  “I don’t know.  Maybe.  I can’t remember.”  If I had heard the name, or seen it, it would have been at school.  What Grandfather had quoted sounded new and strange, though.  I hadn’t heard such words before.

“Have you heard the name Walt Whitman yet?”

“Maybe. There might be something he wrote in our reading book at school.”

“He spoke of what one can learn in the way of a lesson from a tree.  He spoke of it as being, in his opinion, the greatest moral lesson one could learn from Nature.  He summed it in one word: inherency.  That refers to something as it is in and of itself.  That which is essential and characteristic.  Innate.  Intrinsic.”

Grandfather asked, “Do you remember the Words God uses to tell us of Himself?  That is, do you remember the Words He uses to identify Himself for us?”

“I am that I am,” I said.

“Right.  As you know, the Bible has many names for God.  Most seem to act more like titles than as proper names. God Most High .  Everlasting God.  Almighty God.  The Lord Provides.  The Lord is Peace.  The Lord your Sanctifier.  The Lord my Shepherd.  The Lord our Righteousness.  Heavenly Father.  They act like saying ‘your majesty’ and ‘your highness’ to a king or queen.

“But there is that one designation, that one identifier that identifies the one God.  I am that I am.  In Hebrew or in any language, it is His name forever, a memorial for all generations.  It is unique, as God is unique.  It is simple, and yet it is ever so sublime.  It says, in essence, ‘I have no name as you understand and use names.  No one and no thing can name Me because I am the Creator of all.  I am the Lord of all.  I am absolutely independent, and am dependent on no one and no thing.  I am not created; I am self-existent and self-energizing and self-perpetuating.  I am the beginning and the ending, and yet I have neither beginning nor ending.  I am inherence at its quintessence: love, justice, righteousness, power, knowledge, wisdom, life.  I am Life.  I am meaning and I am significance.  I am the Answer to the question, “why?”  I am Why.  I am.’ ”

I hadn’t tracked the words of our family’s ministers, Lutheran and Baptist, all that well, but I was sure I hadn’t heard such words as these yet.  And I had just as much trouble tracking them.

Grandfather said, “Trees tell us, they give us an inkling of inherence. They teach us what is perennial, what is on-going and everlasting.  They remind us of what is real, and of what is true.  As Bernard of Clairvaux said, we can find something great in the woods.  Trees and stones can teach us what we can never learn from masters.”

I sat amazed.

“Konrad,” Grandfather said, “do you remember what Christ Jesus said during his entry into Jerusalem that last week of His mortal life?  Do you remember His reply to those who told Him to rebuke the disciples and keep them from shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed be the King that cometh in the Name of the Lord’?”

“He said, ‘If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out’.”

“Very good, Konrad.  You have good teachers in your school, and you are a good student.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Have you memorized Psalm 96?”


“It is written, ‘Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof.  Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord: for He cometh, for He cometh to judge the earth: He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with His Truth’.”

We continued sitting.

Grandfather asked, “Yes, trees stand still.  But Konrad, do they never move?”

“Well, I suppose they move to some extent in the wind.”

“Isaiah prophesied, ‘All the trees of the field shall clap their hands’,” said Grandfather.

“He was using some kind of figure of speech,” I said.  “He was speaking like a poet or somebody.”

“Aspens clap,” Grandfather said.

“They do not,” I protested.

“Yes.  I have heard them.  As you say, they applaud the performance of the wind as it dances between sky and earth.”

I looked at him for a while, thinking.  “Oh, you mean the leaves.  The sound the leaves make in the breeze.”

“Different leaves make different sounds.  Aspens and poplars and cottonwoods clap.  It’s because of the shape of their leaves and the shape of the stems that attach the leaves to the twigs of the trees.  The size and shape of the leaves makes a difference, you should know.  Some are big and some are small.  Some are thick and some are thin.  Some are simple and some are compound.  Of those that are compound, some are palmate and some are pinnate and some are bipinnate…”

“Whatever that means,” I said.

“I could go on describing the shapes; there are nearly a dozen kinds.  I could also describe venation, margins, tips, and bases.  The point is, the differences in shape make for differences in sound.  Some trees clap.  Some trees clatter.  Some crackle, and some cackle.  Some trees rustle.  Some flap, and some flutter.  Some sigh and swish and whisper.”

“And you can tell the differences just by listening?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. Surely.”

Since my father could tell the differences in pieces of wood by touch and by smell, I had no reason to doubt that my grandfather could tell the differences in trees by listening to them.

“But trees move in other ways,” he announced.

“How so?”

“Some trees march, and some trees wade.”


“Yes.  Aspens can march across a landscape.  You see — or you can see if you wait long enough — that they send roots outward.  From these roots arise new stems that become saplings, that then become trees.  These trees send out more roots, and they send up more trees.  It’s called coppice reproduction. Trees farther back may get sick and die, but the huge mass of roots lives on.  That entire colony of trees lives on and moves on, ever outward. Indeed, some say that a stand of aspens, because of the root mass, is actually one life form.  As such, such organisms can be considered the largest living things on the planet.

“And, yes, mangrove trees do wade.  They send prop-roots into creeks and bays and other backwaters.  They gradually creep into quiet open water to colonize it, making swamps and making islands called keys.

“But of course you know that trees move in other ways,” Grandfather continued.  “They grow.  Up and down.  The cottonwood, for example, can grow upward and outward in its reach for light as fast as five feet a year.  The bur oak can grow downward and outward in its reach for water so well that even native prairie grasses cannot thrive.  And the great sequoia: from a seed that weighs just an ounce or so can grow a titan of 300 feet and 12 million pounds.”

“You’ve seen all that?” I asked.

“Yes. Of course, that required getting off my seat in my woods and moving a little to do so.  It’s called taking a vacation once in a while.”

I nodded.

“And trees move in another way, too.  Would you like to learn a new word?”

“I’m always learning new words,” I replied.  “Mom… I mean, Mother and Father see to that.  And my teachers.”

“How about heliotropism?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“That means that a leaf moves in response to sunlight.  It means that a leaf moves so as to catch the sunlight better.  The leaves of some trees can and do move, even if slowly or slightly, so as to align their surfaces broadside against incoming sun rays.”

“Have you seen that, too?” I asked.

“Actually, yes.  It takes practice, though, and patience.”


“Do you know, Konrad, why leaves like the sun?”

Now there was a question that a teacher could ask.  And the man asking the question probably knew a whole lot more about the subject than any of my teachers at the parochial school.  Maybe he knew more than any of the teachers in all the public schools of Port Edwards, and Nekoosa, and Wisconsin Rapids.  How was I going to answer the question without making a dunce of myself?

I decided to take it slow and be simple. “Photosynthesis.”

“Ah, you know that word.”

“Yes.”  How well I knew it was another question.

And it came: “What can you tell me about it?”

“That’s why leaves are green.  They have chlorophyll.  The stuff is colored green.  It’s the stuff that takes in sunlight and uses it to make plants grow.”

“How so?”

“Hmmm…”  Now I was getting in deep.  I thought for some time.  Grandfather waited.  I had come to realize he could be as patient as a snow-covered oak waiting for spring.  I said, “Maybe trees use sunlight like we use electricity.  It’s power.”

“Not bad, Konrad.  Not bad at all.  Yes, leaves use sunlight as the energy needed to convert carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil into sugars and starches and other organic, energy-rich chemicals.  More specifically, the energy of light is used to split water into oxygen and hydrogen.  Oxygen is given off as a by-product, a leftover.”  Grandfather then asked, “Do you know that, each year, one acre of trees can supply enough oxygen for eighteen people?”


“Anyway, the hydrogen is split into protons and electrons, and those are added to the carbon dioxide to make carbohydrates.”

I nodded, not understanding much of anything he was saying.

“Do you know why chlorophyll is green?” he asked.

Now there was a question.  I had never thought about it.  “No.”

“Chlorophyll a and b absorb most of the red light and the blue-violet light coming from the white sun.  As it turns out, then, a lot of green is reflected, and that’s what we see as a pigment.”

“So, what about when trees turn colors in the fall?” I asked.  “What about when the ash turns purple?”

“Ah.  Well, in the autumn, trees stop the process of photosynthesis.  Deciduous broadleaf trees, that is.  Winter is coming.  It will be cold. The tree can’t work when water is ice.  So, it shuts down for the winter.  It goes into dormancy.  How does the tree know when winter is coming?  The sun.”

“You mean, trees can tell time the way you can?”

“In a way, perhaps.  As you know, in the autumn, days get shorter and nights get longer.  Trees can sense that.  They can also sense cooling temperatures.  They stop manufacturing chlorophyll because they intend to go dormant.  What chlorophyll is left dehydrates, breaks down, and fades away.  As it disappears, it reveals pigments in the leaves that have other colors, yellow and red and even blue.  Carotenes, xanthophylls, anthocyanins: how are those for words?  Additional pigments capture more light in different wavelengths and pass it on to the chlorophyll for use in spring and summer.  Eventually in autumn, those colors fade away, too, and all that’s left is the brown of dead plant cells.”

“What about the purple, though?”

“Oh.  The purple comes as result of mixing.  It’s as if Jack Frost is there mixing his paints to color the leaves in the autumn.  Different combinations and quantities of green, yellow, red, and blue can yield such colors as burgundy, orange, russet, bronze, and rust.”

“I’ve never seen a purple tree,” I said.  “I hope I can see this one when it turns.”


woodcraft 6


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