From prairies to forests, my love of trees
I grew up in Iowa, where a few hundred years ago, tall grass prairie covered 75-80% of the landscape. Now, the land is mostly farms. Hiking into the woods was not an option. Trees, in Iowa, are intentionally planted and not always native. Growing up, my 1/2 acre yard contained silver maple, willow, and red maple in the back, with crab apples and pear trees in the front. All of them planted by my dad.
When my husband visited Maryland, scouting out a place for us to live, he came back to Texas (where we lived at the time), relaying that Maryland had a lot of farmland and a lot of trees.
I heard farmland and immediately pictured Iowa, undulating hills containing patchwork squares of corn and soybeans or grazing cattle.
“No, it doesn’t look like Iowa,” he said.
“What does it look like?” I asked.
He stumbled. “Well, there are rolling hills of farms but lots of trees,” he told me.
Trees together with farms and hills…my brain couldn’t put the mix together.
We’ve lived here for 4 years and I don’t know if I could describe Maryland’s landscape well. Her land is full of farms with rolling hills which make me car sick and the rockiest soil I’ve ever experienced. There’s the mountains in the west and the forests in the middle and the coastal region to the East. There are bear and deer all the way to rays and dolphins.
What I wasn’t prepared for, even though I was told, were the trees.
Sycamore and tulip poplars, maple and walnut, sprue and fir. Deciduous and coniferous. Leaves and buds and flowers and seeds and nuts and pine cones and needles. Rough bark and smooth bark. Brown, black, tan, white, green, and olive colored bark.
My kids and I take advantage of the weather. If 70 to mid 80 degrees with low humidity is predicted, we spend a good portion of the day outdoors.
We head to the woods.
I go to the woods to visit the trees.
Yesterday morning? 68 degrees, low humidity, slight breeze. High by 4 pm was predicted to be 85. I opened AllTrails and did a quick search. My kids and I headed to Everton Cliff trail, close to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia yet still in Maryland.
A gain in elevation of just over 500 feet, 1.5 miles total, out and back. Part of the AT.
My goofball hiking partners, always.
The trail wasn’t over the river and through the woods; it was through the thick, dense woods, to the river, the Upper Potomac to be exact.
Forests, on either side of the river, as far as you can see. Land full of trees, growing out of the rocky soil, growing among the rocks and even out of them.
In the midst of a river, trees find a way. Amazing.
There was absolutely no breeze on the trail up; the forest was too dense to allow air to flow. By the time we reached the top, all three of us and the dog were sticky with sweat and the cool breeze was incredibly refreshing.
We lingered at the top. Sat on the rocks in the sun to be within the breeze and enjoy the view. After a bit, we moved to the shade to cool off and drink water and enjoy the view.
We left some cairns for others to enjoy. Or take apart and make their own. Or for their dog’s noses to tip over, which ours did.
Some days I miss the expanse of Iowa, the ability to watch a thunderstorm roll across the sky, to watch the wall of water move towards you. I find myself taking photographs of wide open expanses and it occurred to me last week – I take such photos because of where I grew up, because those scenes are familiar, because they remind me of home.
But I love the trees of Maryland.
I love the shade they provide in the summer. I love to see them towering overhead. I love to watch the cardinals, woodpeckers, blue jays, wrens, sparrows, and such flit between their branches. I love that I can often hear the birds but not see them. I love to listen to the leaves rustle in the breeze, mimicking a hard rain. I love the color changes in the fall, and the new views they provide without their leaves in the winter.
I love that they are so prolific they grow out of the rocks in the middle of a river.
I love the moss and algae and mushrooms and lichens which grow on their trunks.
I wonder what it would be like to walk among the stalks of moss, to view them as an ant or slug does.
I wonder if they appreciate the view.
But I will take the view I have. I’ll take the woods in my backyard and down the road, and across the river.
And I’ll hike to the points where I can see the expanse of the sky while siting among the trees.