Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The World of Winter Trees

Frozen trees in a field of snow. Lake District National Park, UK. By Click & Learn Photography.
Winter may seem like a dead time for tree lovers, but there really is a lot going on in the world of trees at this time of year. For trees, this is just another part of their yearly cycle. There are particular trials for winter trees, but also a lot happening out of sight. Evergreens have their own way of doing things in winter, but for the purposes of this blog, I want to explore the cold-weather life of deciduous trees.

Tall silhouettes of trees surround a dark path with orange leaves on wither side of it. By Bernd Schulz on Unsplash.
Trees begin preparing for winter months before cold weather and snow move in. Part of the transition is one that we can all see and appreciate, the magnificence of autumn trees. Green leaves contain chlorophyll, which not only gives them their color, it also feeds the tree through photosynthesis. During the winter trees will live off the food they have stored in the summer, so they will not need their leaves. They stop making chlorophyll, the green color disappears, and latent colors appear. The colorful leaves soon fall off entirely, relieving the tree of the need to provide the water and the mechanics of photosynthesis that leaves require. The tree is then able to focus its resources on its other parts. Losing their leaves is one way trees protect themselves ahead of winter dryness. They also move water around in their cells to protect them from freezing and to keep their nutrients intact. Read more on this here.

Water is a big issue for trees in cold winter climates. They cannot depend on the soaking rains from other times of the year, and when moisture does fall it is often bound up in snow. Moisture is moisture, one might think, but frozen water is very difficult for trees to access. If you are tending trees, water them when temperatures are above 40°F and there’s no snow, and use a product like Hydretain that holds water in the root zone. Here’s an article on watering trees at this time of year from the city of Greeley, Colorado, where they know a thing or two about winter weather. 

A pine branch encased in ice. By Sarah Cervantes on Unsplash.
Water is at the root of another problem for winter trees – the risk of exploding. Although it sounds very dramatic and catastrophic it is only one of those things. Trees can make a sound like a gunshot, which is definitely unsettling, but this phenomenon does not cause the tree to experience a bomb-like phenomenon. They crack (both physically and audibly) instead. This is caused by water freezing and expanding inside the tree (more on the science of it here), creating a rupture in the bark of the tree. This sort of thing happens in sub-zero weather in areas where native trees are winter-adapted, so they are generally able to shake off such cracking (more here). Check out this video, to see an “explosion” for yourself. 

Snow-covered trees in a line on a blue field with a blue background. By Tomas Tuna on Unsplash.
Internal ice is not the only thing that poses a problem for tree bark. Sunscald (sometimes called Southwest Winter Injury) can get them, especially if they’re younger trees. Sunscald happens when there are warm, sunny days and then cold winter nights. During the day the sun heats up the bark, causing the cells to open up and activate in response. Once night falls, freezing temperatures can damage the newly-opened cells. The end result can be bark cracks and even damage to the wood underneath the bark. There’s not much you can do once this happens, but proactive treatments include wrapping the tree or applying protective paint. We carry both wraps and paint

A deer face to face with a carrot-nosed snowman.
Wrapping a tree not only protects it from sunscald, it can offer some protection to the bark from animal damage. During the fall and winter, all sorts of critters want to feed off of, rub onto, or otherwise prey on your trees. Here is a brief article from the Chicago Tribune that explains the most common animal culprits and ways to ward them off. If you didn’t get around to wrapping your tree, or you didn’t want to, or if you did and want more protection, animal repellents can add another layer of care for your trees. We have a variety of great repellent products (see here) that can help with whatever is pestering your trees without resorting to toxic chemicals. 

Close-up of the red and orange bark of a Tibetan Cherry Tree.
Tibetan Cherry Tree 
Damage from weather or animals aside, bark can be a compelling sight on a winter tree. Some trees undress just enough in the winter for you to see the pretty wood they are hiding under their bark. There are those that hide their beauty behind their foliage and there are those that exfoliate their outer bark in winter and surprise you with the beauty beneath. Here and here are some gorgeous examples.

Despite all the hardships that the season can bring, trees do a lot of work in the wintertime. It’s just doing all the work out of sight underground, so it is hard for mere humans to observe and appreciate their efforts. This article explains (as well as scientists can determine) what’s going on down there in the root world. Basically, their goal is to spread out and strengthen before spring comes so that they have the resources they need for robust aboveground growth. This plan seems to work most of the time, unless there is an exceptionally hard frost that penetrates deep into the soil or the soil is disrupted by frost heaving. Frost heaving occurs when soil freezes and the ice moves towards the surface. This can weaken trees to the point where they are unable to stand. Fortunately, for all this to happen a number of variables have to come together, and for the overwhelming majority of trees, this will never be an issue. So, they are free to keep on developing their roots in pursuit of the perfect rhizosphere

Black trees, black water and snow-covered roots. Walnut Creek by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash.

Trees are our priceless companions on this planet. They are sources of life-giving oxygen, but also life-affirming joy and beauty. As we head into a new year, let’s all resolve to appreciate and protect them.

Stay warm and stay safe out there. 

Submitted by Pam

Snow falling on a white tree in a snow-covered field. There is a wooded hillside in the background.

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Art of the Christmas Tree

Gold abstract drawings of Christmas trees on a black background.

To most people, Christmas decorations are a wonder to behold – the lights, color, and sparkle are simply enchanting. But, is it Art? I believe most people consider theirs to be a work of Art, but Christmas tree images are almost non-existent in the fine art world. Nevertheless, artistically-minded Christmas tree lovers have found ways to be creative and, at times controversial, in their tree creations. And their visions have made their way into the public sphere for all to enjoy or abhor. 

An illustration of an 1848 engraving showing the British royal family around their tree.
There is a very good reason why there aren’t depictions of Christmas trees that date many centuries in the past– the trees as we know them simply haven’t been around that long. The rise of the modern Christmas tree has been credited to Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. He was German, and there they had been decorating evergreen trees since the 16th century. He introduced the tradition to England and, in 1848, an engraving of the royal family around their tree was widely published. Spurred on by the popularity of the Queen and the vastness of her empire at the time, the use of Christmas trees quickly spread worldwide. So, it was a piece of engraved art that was the catalyst for our current beloved trees.

An Art Deco style drawing of a woman in a coat with a large white fur collar standing by a Christmas tree.
Art Deco tree
Even though Christmas trees became increasingly fashionable, artwork depicting them remained mostly limited to kitschy greeting cards and advertisements for many decades. And then came the design explosion that was Art Deco in the 1920s. This was a radical shift from conventional ways of looking at fashion, housewares, architecture, and more. Sleekly modern stylized images were all the rage during this prosperous era. Glamorous people standing by abstract trees became a popular Christmas look. The glitz of Art Deco, however, soon wore off under the hardships of the Great Depression and World War II. Glam gave way to homespun images and all-out Americana as people longed for better times and optimism in the future waned. No one could portray these “All-American” values better than Norman Rockwell. In his lifetime (which spanned much of the 20th century), he painted thousands of images full of homespun humor and affection for the average citizen. They appeared on magazine covers, advertisements, and calendars – they were ubiquitous in pop culture. The world he portrayed might not have been familiar to many Americans, but it was at least aspirational. His Christmas-themed works are full of conventional trees and families, but he includes witty twists that can bring a smile.
Painting by Norman Rockwell showing a man sitting on a step ladder by a tree. He is entangled in Christmas lights.

Traditional tree images seemed to rule the day throughout the 1950s. Until 1959, is. That year, Hallmark cards (in a fit of high-brow optimism) commissioned the famous surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, to make some Christmas cards. When they came out in 1960, there was an audible outcry. It seems the public was not quite ready for his vision of a butterfly Christmas tree. Or comic camels. Or headless lute players. I, personally, like the butterfly tree. 

At the same time that Hallmark was managing its Dali situation, the aluminum tree came into the mainstream. I wrote about this tree’s brief heyday in my blog last week. I haven’t been able to find any artwork depicting this tree, aside from basic advertising renditions. It’s my belief that the best illustrations of these trees are in family photo albums.

A painting by Salvador Dali that shows a Christmas tree made of butterflies.
Dali butterfly tree
I'm going to fast-forward to the 1980s because this is when begin to take an interesting turn. For decades leading up to this time, Christmas decorations were all over private and public spaces. Whole neighborhoods lit up. Stores had elaborate displays inside and in their store windows on city promenades. Hotels were ablaze with lights and shiny decorations. Towns and cities, both urban and rural, had their community Christmas tree, and families came to ooh and ah as they were lit. But these were all usually very conventional decorations – heavy on the Christmas ornaments, snow (real or fake), maybe some reindeer or Santa (or even a Grinch or two), and lights, lights, lights. But, by the 80s, people began to take some risks in pursuit of something new for their Christmas installations. Instead of a standard tree, many places welcomed more conceptual Christmas decorations. 

A Christmas tree hanging in a green room. It has a beam of blue light projecting from its base.
In 1988, the world-renowned Tate Britain museum in arts-rich London decided to turn over their annual  Christmas tree display to a series of contemporary artists. In recent years, the artwork seems to have migrated outdoors, but for 23 uninterrupted years, Londoners were regaled with some mighty interesting trees. Or, more correctly, most of  those years there was some sort of tree – a couple of years the artists’ visions were of no tree at all. Here are pictures of every year. My choice for worst-dressed is 2006; Fairy genitals just don’t say “Christmas” to me. 

Whether the Tate Britain was an innovator or acting in response to a growing movement in the art community, I don’t know. But, since then alternative Christmas tree displays have spread around the world with spectacular results. Interestingly, hotels seem to have taken on the job of showcasing certain artists (like this one in London), while municipalities have embraced Christmas trees made of alternative materials and/or carrying specific messages. This, then, is where modern Christmas tree Art can be found. And, just like Hallmark’s Dali debacle, not all the efforts are appreciated. Back in 2014, artist Paul McCarthy unveiled his bright green, inflatable abstract Christmas tree in posh Plaza Vendome, Paris. Unfortunately (and, purposefully), it bore a striking resemblance to a very particular type of sex toy. The display only lasted two days. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure some Parisians are still upset about it. See it for yourself here.

An inflatable iridescent Christmas tree standing by some windows. There are lots of silver baubles hanging from the ceiling.Jack Irving tree 2019.
Jack Irving Christmas tree at the W London hotel

There are so many amazing examples of these Christmas tree installations that I cannot choose just a couple to direct you to, so I’m just going to provide a series of links for you to browse through at your leisure:

Now that we are firmly in the 21st century, it should come as no surprise that many of the modern tree designs are high tech art. Check out some here and here (this one includes a flying Christmas tree).

This article talks about a show in Boston last year by the modern artist Hyman Bloom. It combined Christmas tree paintings with those of corpses (not sure I follow that line of connectivity).

Here are some 2014 Christmas tree installations from around the world.

Santa dancing across a picture of a Christmas tree.
Here are some of the best from 2016.

And this is what they look like for 2020.

No matter where your artistic preferences lie, you can find something to like during the holiday season. And, at this time, when we are all ready to get this horrible year behind us, we need all the beauty (or whimsy) we can get. 

Happy Holidays and here’s to a better New Year.

Submitted by Pam

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Tree Cut Down By a Cartoon

Closeup of red and gold ornaments on a silver aluminum tree.
If you think politics are polarizing, try asking a group of people how they feel about aluminum Christmas trees. Whether you like their kitsch factor or find them an abomination, there is no denying that their shimmering sheen is a sight to behold. Aesthetics aside, their place in American culture and their ultimate demise are as interesting as the reflective light patterns they create.

To explain the aluminum tree phenomenon, it is important to look back at where we were in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This was a time of prosperity for most Americans and a time when people were actively looking to the future with enthusiasm. The possibilities must have seemed endlessly golden for the adults at that time. These were people who had made it through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Korean War, and they were ready for something new to look forward to. Combine that attitude with the economic security of well-paying jobs and emerging technologies from the space program, and the market for gadgets and gimmicks was well set. The American people were excited about the prospect of space exploration and wanted to be a part of this new world in some small way. So, they bought Tang and Teflon pans and Christmas trees that looked like something the Jetsons would have. 

Reproduction of an ad for Evergleam trees from Aluminum Specialty Products.
Cultural shifts often have humble beginnings (Microsoft began in a garage, after all), and for the aluminum tree we all think of, the beginning was in the small city of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. For any number of reasons, Manitowoc had been a center of aluminum production since the late 1800s. The factories there provided good incomes for thousands of residents, and by mid-century, there were many new aluminum products on the market to keep them busy. Then, in late 1958, an employee of Aluminum Specialty Company in Manitowoc saw an aluminum tree that another company had created. But that tree was expensive and hard to assemble, so it wasn’t selling. Seeing an opportunity, the dedicated employee took the tree to the engineers at Aluminum Specialty. Within a few months, they had designed an affordable, portable tree that was easy to assemble. By Christmas 1959, the Evergleam model was rolling out and selling big. The innovative employee’s name has been lost to time, but hopefully, he was rewarded handsomely for his vision.

Young woman sitting by an aluminum tree with lots of presents and a color wheel under it.
Aluminum trees quickly caught the collective imagination and they catapulted into mainstream Christmas. But, a hiccup soon developed – it was downright dangerous to put lights on them. Aluminum is an excellent conductor of electricity, so all it takes is a faulty wire or bulb to charge the tree. Fires, shocks, and even electrocution can result. The solution was the now-iconic color wheel that projects color onto the tree; it was introduced in 1962. That same year, rotating stands were also unveiled (later models even played music). Different manufacturers and varieties in sizes, colors, and adornments appeared. The tree was a bonafide hit and in the early ‘60s every hip household had one – the future looked shiny for the aluminum tree.

An aluminum tree lying in the middle of a room. There is a television, folding tray tables and two very guilty-looking cats.
If one looks at the decade of the 1960s, the first half has a distinctly different flavor than the second half. What had been a time of optimism quickly became a time of dynamic cultural changes. The complacency of peacetime morphed into the horror of Vietnam. Fun fashions and music evolved into a counterculture that was fraught with drug use and social unrest. Environmental consciousness was awakened and put a shadow on the unrestrained consumerism of earlier years. All of this had an effect on aluminum tree sales, but it was Charlie Brown who dealt the final blow.

In 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas was beamed into living rooms across the country. Charlie Brown (and other characters from Peanuts) had been loved by readers of Sunday comics since the late ’40s, but this was their first primetime special for the whole family. In the show, Lucy wants Charlie to buy a pink aluminum tree, but he chooses – and loves - his now-famous threadbare  but real tree. This was seen by many as an overt protest against crass consumerism and a rallying cry to embrace the real, and flawed, natural world. After the broadcast, aluminum tree sales quickly tapered off and then crashed significantly as Charlie Brown’s Christmas became an annual favorite. Aluminum Specialty Products had remained the leader in aluminum trees; but by 1969, they had ceased production of their glittering Evergleam trees. 

Charlie Brown and Linus are in a field of colorful trees and Linus is asking, "Gee - Do they still make wooden Christmas trees?".
Luckily, at the same time that aluminum trees were popular, cheap cameras and film were also available. This means that there is a delicious trove of photographs showing people by their trees. These images capture that short period of time in all its garish glory. Here, for instance, is a collection of every-one-is-better-than-the-next pictures. Some of these have a strangeness to them that is outright hilarious or definitely creepy. Or something else entirely that I cannot name. Enjoy.

A room with a real Christmas tree to the left rear next to fireplace and an aluminum tree in the right forefront"
As with everything deemed retro, aluminum trees are cool again. This has led to a batch of companies making new trees that look like the old kind, or new trees that are sort of like the old ones. And all the ornaments and accessories as well, of course. For people who aspire for the ambiance that only an aluminum tree provides, this is a great way to go. If, on the other hand, you are one who demands the real deal you had better be willing to pay a premium price. Vintage trees can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars. If you are interested in either a true antique or reproduction, this blog has some useful buying tips and this one has some beautiful decorating ideas.

America may have had a short-lived infatuation with aluminum trees, but they have had a lasting effect on a lot of us. They elicit strong nostalgia in many people - they remember the sparkly trees they had or wished they had. Others associate them with a better time, or possibly of a not-better time that embraced the artificial. Some see them as a little of all that - like this man who retains vivid memories of his family tree. However you see them, they sure are an eyeful.
Take Care.
Submitted by Pam

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Tree Gifts

2 gifts wrapped in brown paper with acorns and leaves on them by a fir tree.
Now that we are done digesting the turkey and are almost sick of turkey soup, it is time to get serious about Christmas shopping. This year shopping, like everything else in 2020, is colored by Covid. Instead of flocking to big box stores and the mall, many people are shopping in the safety and comfort of their homes. But endlessly searching the net can be deadly dull for some people, and rife with a-lot-of-the-same for everyone. So, if you are a tree lover and/or are shopping for one, I have done some of the scrolling for you and curated some cool choices. But, don’t think only of tree aficionados while looking through these choices, anyone who loves Nature in general will enjoy one of these. 

A mother and daughter planting trees with others in the  background. In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by Eyoel Kahssay.
When you get right down to it, the best present for a tree lover is probably an actual tree and these days there are a variety of ways you can gift one:

Trees that someone else plants: For someone who doesn’t have the place or desire to plant a tree, you can donate to a non-profit and they’ll plant one for you. The Nature Conservancy is not fooling around. This well-respected organization plans to plant a billion trees, much of it funded by small donations. Another option is the nonprofit Donate A Tree To The World. They are fighting climate change and helping disadvantaged communities in Mexico and Colombia through reforestation. They will send you a picture of your tree and follow its growth for you. One of their projects is working to build the numbers of pine nut trees, whose struggle I wrote about in my last blog. Pine nuts are not just important to people around the world, according to this article by the World Wildlife Fund, pine nuts are essential to tiger survival in the Russian Far East. 

Pine nute in a white ceramic bowl with pine cones and branches surrounding it.
Trees to grow from saplings or seeds: It takes real optimism in your recipient’s commitment to give a tree seed as a present. But, should you choose to do so, Seeds of Life has the stuff for you. They sell seed packets, seedlings, and gift trees. Many other outlets, like FastGrowingTrees.com and Bower & Branch, sell a great variety of small trees ready to be gifted. 

The cover of the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohllesen.
Still unsure about giving a living tree? This short article has some ideas about why you should, trees for different occasions, and additional nonprofits that plant trees.

If you think having a tree planted from afar seems less-than-personal for a Christmas gift, perhaps you’d prefer to buy a present that you can touch, and still plant a tree. There are more and more businesses that position themselves as eco-friendly and many are getting their hands in the dirt to prove it. Companies like Save Lands offer cute gear and entice you to buy with their tree-planting mission. For Save Lands, it’s twelve trees planted for every item sold. Here is a list of nine other companies that do something similar. This trend of driving e-commerce with feel-good consumerism is not universally accepted. Here is an article from Canada that explains some of the reasons why.

Some retail sites have outstanding selections for the tree lover on your list. Here are some standouts:

A glass sculpture of a green Tree of Life. Available from Wildlife Wonders.
Soul Flower – Their things are very I-wish-it-was-the-60’s, Boho-Hipster Chic. But in a good way.

Popular ScienceI know – Popular Science? This is not really a retail site, but, Eleanor Cummings has put together a thoughtful collection for tree huggers. 

Uncommon Goods – This site has an uncommonly good selection of tree-themed gifts.

A clock with a picture of misty mountains on it.
Misty Mountain Clock
Wildlife WondersTheir goods can be pricey, but they're clever and beautiful. Even if you don’t have deep pockets you should take a scroll through this site just to admire what they have. And there are some deals to be found.

Large retail sites like Etsy have seemingly endless items under their tree-themed sections. If you’ve ever been on Etsy, you know the stuff ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous. For not-expensive gifts, I particularly like the pinecone key chains, the misty mountain clock, and the handmade fir tree soap. The tree wall art is also very nice if you have the right person with the right space to give it to. Another potential Etsy gold mine of tree presents is the multitude of Tree of Life designs – jewelry, art pieces, textiles, you name it - I think I even saw a knitted cap in there.

As I’ve been looking at tree-centric gifts, I’ve noticed all the family trees that keep popping up. They are clearly wildly popular these days, and with good reason. As more and more people do their DNA, interest in ancestors has grown and family trees are a great way to showcase all that. But, the variety of styles and cost-points is nearly overwhelming. You can get a kit from Family Locket that can be done with the kids and makes a felt family tree. Or you can get a pretty black metal tree that you add engraved magnetic leaves to from Personalization Mall. Or you can get a wall hanging that shows your family fanning out in a beautiful tree from this Etsy vendor. Or you can go to Branches and get a fully custom family tree made, including framing. Or (my personal favorite) get your family tree put on an actual piece of wood from Foxbairn. If this is something you think you want to do, you should act fast as custom pieces take extra time to create.
A family tree on a slice of a log.

Finally, I’d like to recommend an ARBICO Organics gift certificate.  While it’s true that we don’t sell trees or tree-themed merch, we do cater to people who care for trees. So, if your tree lover walks the walk by growing trees, we have something they can use. And, of course, we have something for anybody who loves to grow anything. 

Christmas is meant to be a happy time of year, but this year is bound to be challenging for many. If at all possible, try to make the one thing you can control –your gift-giving – as simple and enjoyable as possible.

Take Care.

Submitted by Pam

A cartoon Christmas tree with a gift.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Local Organizations Gardeners & Plant Lovers Can Support On #Givingtuesday

Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash

In the spirit of giving and gratitude one fosters during Thanksgiving, we at ARBICO Organics wanted to share information about local organizations you can consider giving to and becoming involved with in honor of #givingtuesday!

Photo by Zoe Schaeffer on Unsplash 
Local urban gardens are a great way to get involved in growing, especially if you lack your own garden space! You can get some dirt under your nails and fulfill your gardening aspirations all while helping the community! You can locate urban gardens in your area by visiting the international database available at Urban Farming
Your local cooperative extension is also a terrific place for resources about growing in your specific area and may offer many ways to get involved in the local garden community scene! You can find your location by visiting the Pick Your organization’s website! 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Another fantastic way to support and give back to your community is to get involved with your local school system’s garden program. Working to teach children gardening skills and the importance of nutrition is a very valuable part of growing our community’s next generation! To find out more, visit your local school district’s website!

If you are more of a hands-off gardener, who prefers to find fresh produce from local farmers, consider joining a CSA. Not only is this a great way to diversify your fridge’s inventory, but it supports local growers and guarantees that you have the freshest and most in-season options! In many areas where farmer’s markets are closed due to COVID-19, this option will also help support farms that relay on these markets. To find a CSA in your area, visit Local Harvest
Local gardens and farms are just one place to start, don’t forget about local food banks and other organizations that help protect your local region’s biodiversity!
In Tucson, where our company is located, in addition to gardening and farming organizations,  we support the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, the Center for Biodiversity and the Sonoran Institute!
Let’s keep the spirit of giving going at this time and continue to support our communities! 

We are better together! 
Submitted by Aurora @ ARBICO Organics

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Trees & Thanksgiving


People gathered around a table under a tree. There is a big pine cone in the forefront.

As I continue my months-long devotion to trees, Thanksgiving looms large on the calendar. It’s a week away as I write this, and people are scrambling to get their plans together. I feel fortunate in that we had already been planning an immediate family-only meal ahead of the Covid call to shrink gatherings. Without the preoccupation over preparations, I have had time to consider how trees fit into Thanksgiving. My conclusion is that every season, and every holiday, gives us an opportunity to appreciate trees and Thanksgiving gives us some special opportunities.

A bright red Chinese Pistache tree in a green field.
Chinese Pistache 
The thought of Thanksgiving conjures up nostalgic images for most Americans. These include turkey, of course, but there are also seasonal delights like football and crisp, cold days. In 2020, some of these traditions are somewhat diluted because of Covid and, with Global Warming, the weather may be warmer than usual (it’ll be 74°F here in Tucson). But, what can – and should – remain unchanged is the being thankful part of Thanksgiving. We all can find a reason to be thankful for trees (here are 10 good ones). This lady was so inspired she wrote a lovely “Thanksgiving Mediation” on trees, with a special call-out to the glorious Chinese Pistache.

Branches in a clear vase with paper leaves attached that have messages written on them.
Rather than just being thankful for trees, you could create a Thanksgiving or Thankful tree. Apparently, these have become increasingly popular in the last few years, but I just became aware of them this year. The idea is to create a decorative piece that people can adorn with those things that they are grateful for. A tree whose leaves carry these messages seems to be the general practice here, but the variations are limited only by imagination. Here and here are some great examples. I heartily endorse this new trend, whether you go all in and create a tree or just use parts of this idea in your décor for the day. Unsure as to how to go about this? Here are some step by step directions for one version.

Another tree decoration that is gaining popularity is a Harvest tree. This is a more seasonally based decoration and is adorned with things that make you think of fall and harvests (think colored leaves, pumpkins, and old-fashioned scarecrows). Here are some pretty examples. This blog advocates for
A small tree decorated with fall-themed decor and a scarecrow doll standing next to it.
decorative trees from Back to School through Christmas. They use a lot of the colored trees I wrote about back in 2018. You could put your own spin on these types of decorations, like using a football theme (team-specific encouraged). Or you could wrap up the year with a tree that reflects the whole of 2020 – it could have things that represent the pandemic, toilet paper shortage, politics, and natural disasters. On second thought, don’t do that – it could turn out to be the most depressing tree ever created. Okay, I know there are some of you out there for whom these trees are just a little too much like Christmas trees and feel that those sorts of decorations belong in December. But, the truth is, most of us need to feel better as we come to the end of a brutal year. So why not put up whatever decorations make you feel better or nostalgic for better times, whenever you're so inclined? This article makes an excellent case for this. Here is a simple tutorial on how to make a Harvest tree and, for those of you who are more visually inclined, here is a video.

Speaking of decorations and nostalgia, who remembers making turkeys out of leaves pasted to paper plates? Many generations have brought that treasure home from school to be displayed on the refrigerator. If you think about it, many of the classic Thanksgiving arts and crafts are derived from or represent trees and/or their parts. Between the colorful leaves, the atmospheric shape of newly-bare branches, the acorns, and the pinecones, there is a lot to work with. Here are some great children’s projects, both new and familiar, and here are some projects that adults may enjoy. For the adults, I recommend pairing the activity with hard apple cider (delicious, therapeutic, and provided by a tree). You’ll feel thankful in no time.
A bowl of apples on the bottom left and an apple pie with leaf decor crust on the upper right.

No matter how you slice it, Thanksgiving is about the food. Sure, there are the “required” staples, but everyone also has those particular dishes that the day just wouldn’t be the same without. Take a moment to think about what foods you will have in front of you, and chances are many come from trees. There is apple pie, of course– not just the fruit but the cinnamon that flavors it; pecan pies have a place of honor on many Southern tables; avocados and pine (piñon) nuts are Southwestern staples; some people have to have walnuts in their stuffing; chocolate, of course, and coffee or tea to top off the feast. It is especially important to appreciate the trees that give us our beloved foods; the fact is that many of them are being affected by climate change. I love the flavor of maple and would hate to see the world lose it, but sugar maples are really struggling. The same can be said for Piñon pines. Without an appreciation for and knowledge of what these trees bring us, people are less motivated to protect them. As a side note: If you are interested in directly feeding off of a tree or two, here is an interesting article (complete with recipes) on which ones make the best dining.

An outside Thanksgiving table set on a blonde wood table with blue and whit settings and a colorful leaf centerpiece.
This year, public health officials are encouraging people to take their Thanksgiving outside. I cannot think of a better way to acknowledge trees than to get out there where they grow. Turkey and trimmings under the shade of a tree sounds like a sublime dining experience to me. If you decide to go this route, there are a bunch of ways to decorate the space to get that holiday feel. Here are some really nice examples to get your creative juices flowing. 

If you choose to stay inside while eating, getting outside before or after dinner is another way to bring the natural world into your celebration. For some families, a little touch football with the family is the perfect warmup to food and pro-football. Others have a less structured or less active approach. Whatever makes you feel happy and grateful, go outside and do it if you’re able. Sit under a tree and laugh with friends, take a bike ride with the kids, or go on a short walk to see how the trees are doing with their color-changing and leaf-dropping. This is generally a time of good weather for most of us, so go outside and appreciate it – especially in this year of Covid when Nature is still doable but long periods in confined spaces not so much.

Nyle DiMarco using sign language to say Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Turkey Day, y’all, and remember to thank a tree.

Submitted by Pam

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Is There A Ghost In My Tree?

The silhouette of a tree in front of a misty lake with the sun setting. Photo by Matt Bluejay on Unsplash
For many people, the idea that trees can be haunted is preposterous. But for millions of others, it seems as natural as the changing seasons. I’ve written previously about how entwined humans are with trees and this close connection extends into the spiritual realm for many. This is not a new or radical idea. Our ancestors were firm believers – everyone from the ancient Romans and Egyptians to the Celts and Native Americans, and millions in between, saw trees as spirit homes. 

Tree spirits are very much a part of cultures around the world (here is a partial list of just some of them). Nowhere is this truer than in India. This vast and complicated country has one commonality that covers all the geographical and cultural regions: The apparent infestation of ghosts in their trees and the acceptance of their presence by locals. Indian ghosts have a preference for particular trees – specifically the fig, banyan, neem, and tamarind. Here is a quick and fun read that illustrates how ghosts are assimilated into everyday life by a family in Kolkata in northern India and here is a cool story about ghosts in southern India.

A drawing of a large banyan tree with one person and many ghosts in its roots.

Silk Cotton trees (aka kapok trees) have a uniquely spooky presence to many people in the Caribbean. They say these trees are haunted because so many slaves (and some criminals) were hung from them. Others say the ghostly spirits were always there. This belief in kapok spirits can be traced back to the West African roots of the enslaved people brought to this region, where this tree is considered sacred (read more here). In an interesting cross-oceanic parallel, the ancient Mayan also saw this tree as sacred. In their tradition, the first human came from a kapok tree. 

What appears to be an angry, yelling face in the gray bark of a tree.
Almost anyone can be turned into a tree ghost believer if they look long and closely enough at a tree. It is easy to see things there. Whether we invent what we want to see or the spirits are showing themselves is up for discussion. Here is one explanation of why we see faces in trees.  A compelling example of this phenomenon is the following story: In the spring of 2017, a storm came through Rochester, NY, and left behind some unusual damage. It tore a large piece out of a tree in Durand-Eastman Park, exposing what looked to be the figure of a woman holding a baby (although not everyone sees the baby part). What makes this particularly unique is that for decades this area has been haunted by sightings of a woman in white, called the White Lady or the Lady of the Lake. She is said to be searching for her lost baby. Could her spirit have been trapped in this tree all this time? Check out the pictures here; they’re pretty impressive.

A large tree in a clearing by a pond in Epping Forest, England
Around the world, there are whole forests that are deemed haunted (see some here). Often it is easy to understand why this designation has evolved – they are places that have seen the whole of the human experience over eons, or they are the sights of bloody battles or fascinating events. But, sometimes they just seem creepy for no definable reason. 

Here are some examples of singularly spooky trees:

A large black tree in this distance in a snowy field - the Basking Rige Devil's Tree.
In New Jersey, there is an oak tree called the Basking Ridge Devil’s Tree. This particular tree has a wealth of stories swirling around it about ghostly goings-on, supposed-curses, demonic activity and more. People claim it’s where the Ku Klux Klan practiced rituals, it’s a portal to hell, a driverless truck will chase you down if you get near it, it’s haunted by a man who murdered his family, and even that if you touch it your hands will turn black if you eat at a restaurant. If you are still interested in visiting this now-protected (from the public or on behalf of the public) tree, here are directions. 

In Northern Ireland (another culture with a great affinity for supernatural beings) the village of Finnis, County Down, has a haunted sycamore tree that has been a resident there since the early years of the 20th century.  Before that time, there had been a nasty little spirit pestering people around their bridge over the river. A priest eventually trapped it in a bottle and put it in the tree. No one has messed with that tree since. Even powerlines were re-routed around it. See it and read more about it here

Apples that are red on the outside and the inside - Micah Rood apples.

Sometimes haunted trees produce more than just goosebumps. In the case of an apple tree in Franklin, Connecticut, its flowers and fruit tell a haunting tale. The story goes that in the mid-1750s, a farmer murdered a peddler and buried him under an apple tree. In some versions of the story, the farmer can’t handle the guilt and hangs himself from the same tree. No matter the version, when the trees bloomed in the spring the flowers were crimson-red instead of white, and when the apples appeared they had strange, blood-colored flesh. The actual tree in question most likely was downed by a hurricane in 1938, but these apples (known as Micah Rood apples) are still in existence. Some of this story is true, some is not and some may be. Go here to learn more.  

A row of Frangipani trees nest to a gazebo.
Not all haunted trees are old or scary-looking. In many parts of Southeast Asia, the frangipani tree is thought to house ghosts, and worse. While these beautiful and fragrant trees are appreciated for just those things, according to Malay (still widely believed) folklore, if you get a sudden whiff of their fragrance a Pontianak may be nearby. These are vengeful lady vampire spirits that seduce and kill. In Thailand and Vietnam, this tree is associated with death and the unhappy ghosts that live in them.

A live oak tree with very tall and spread-out branches - the Angel Oak.
In the US, live oaks are a favorite for ghosts. Wherever there is a spectacular old specimen, there seem to be ghost stories hovering around it. This is the case for a spectacularly beautiful, nearly 500-year-old live oak on St. John’s Island in South Carolina that has become as famous for its haunts as for its beauty. Known as the Angel Oak, this glorious tree rises up 65 feet with branches that spread out over 17,000 square feet. It needs all that room for the thriving population of ghostly beings that call it home. Well before colonizers appeared on this shore, the Native Americans were aware of the power of this tree. They buried their dead around it and those spirits are some that abide here. Once a part of a plantation, there are the understandably restive souls of slaves that had been hung from its branches. And that’s just some of the ghosts. Learn
more here or see a video here.

A cartoon of a girl holding a torch in a scary forest.
Whether you call them spirits or ghosts or something else entirely, it seems clear that trees have a presence that is unique to each individual. And, like all individuals in a larger whole, not all of them are nice.

Take Care.

Submitted by Pam

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