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Arbour Day

As the season changes, prepare to be amazed again by the splendour of gold, yellow and red

By Carolyn Pogue

Autumn is about many things — Thanksgiving, Harvest moon, checking the weatherstripping. And trees. When I was a kid, our school made a big production of Arbour Day. We planted a sapling and learned Joyce Kilmour's poem, “Trees.”  “I think that I shall never see/a poem as lovely as a tree. . . .”

Arbour Day also meant making scrapbooks filled with as many different kinds of leaves as we could find. Each was pressed between pieces of tissue in a great heavy book, such as a dictionary or encyclopedia, and later ironed between pieces of waxed paper to preserve them. Ever so carefully, then, the leaves were taped artistically (we thought) onto scrapbook pages. Some of the leaves I gathered then would have been from the grandparents of the trees now shading my brother and sister-in-law's home.

Driving up their long lane is like entering a deep green heart. This is southern Ontario forest, on the Oak Ridge Morraine, which is home to a variety of birds, deer, snapping turtles, foxes, squirrels, moles and more. Underground springs rise into streams in this forest. They also feed a pond where ducks and geese visit, and where water lilies, bull rushes and trout live. My parents built this home for their retirement; James and his wife Laura own it now. Today, walking the trails James has built reminds me how a tree is a particular entity. Walking with him, one may believe that trees possess personality. Even before he owned this land, my brother — like our father — was a man who planted trees, even in the forest. 

Photo by Carolyn Pogue
Photo by Carolyn Pogue

I recently reread Jean Giono's The Man Who Planted Trees. The narrator is a young man travelling on foot over the mountains, "quite unknown to tourists, in that ancient region where the Alps thrust down into Provence . . .” He describes walking through a desolate, war-ruined landscape, with abandoned farms and villages, and dried-up springs. Eventually, he comes upon a solitary old man who, he learns, is mending his bereaved heart by planting acorns. It is as tender a tale as you'll read. Over time, the young man periodically visits the older man and sees the beauty that he has planted on the ravished, barren landscape. The older man makes the land fertile and invites back wildlife, one tree at a time. It’s an inspiring and elegant ecological tale that lodges in the heart and mind.

Most of us know that spending time in, around and under trees is good for the soul. Three thousand years ago, Isaiah celebrated them when he wrote, “For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (55:12)

As the season changes, we prepare to be amazed again by the splendour of gold, yellow and red leaves. By the bus load, people take cameras to the mountains or into the countryside to bear witness. I love this autumn ritual. It's so uncomplicated, so primal — like getting up close and personal with a single tree. Or starting a tree by digging a hole with a stick.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a Calgary author and longtime Observer contributor. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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