Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Legacy trees evolve from singular or group specimens that have had, or will become, historical, cultural or botanical icons. The mystique and mystery of remote forests of towering giants, the wildness of tropical jungles, and the grandeur of brightly colored mountain landscapes in the autumn of the year—all paint various pictures of the natural world that have been sequestered in the minds of some of us like the Footloose Forester.
Just as tree seedlings in a tree plantation grow into saplings, pass through growth stages into taller and wider specimens that can be identified from afar, they eventually meet their fate. At maturity they are cut down in forest harvest operations, fall in high winds, slowly die to disease or rot, or survive for centuries to become ancient old-growth icons. The latter category of old-growth often develops concurrently with the added charm of being aesthetically appealing. Aesthetic appeal is not often considered as one of the most important qualities in multi-purpose management of forest resources, but maybe it should be.
Aesthetic appeal may not be obvious at every stage of growth but it seems to accrue as trees become older, larger and more stately. Famous and historical trees of note very often were those whose shade from their wide branches witnessed the signing of treaties, entertained classes of elementary school students, were silent accomplices for lovers, and provided year-round respite from a blazing sun. The aesthetics may or may not have been contemplated but the appeal of a broad canopy of shade has always been self-evident. Also, the shared history of human activities near and under prominent trees has contributed to the writing of the legacies of both people and the trees, themselves.
Each and every state of the United States has its own compendium of state bird, state flower, state tree, etc. and throughout the process of deciding on those distinctions, the decision makers take into account such things as local history, stature, beauty, and grandiosity. When it comes to trees, the stature, beauty, and grandiosity could arguably be summed up in the single description as aesthetic appeal. Many legacy trees in the history of ethnic groups and, indeed, the recorded history of world events undoubtedly have aesthetic aspects that can be associated with them.
Aesthetic appeal is an abstract concept that is not easily or meaningfully quantified, but it is well understood by the beholder. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, aesthetic appeal is debatable but does not have harshly divergent outliers.
The original Charter Oak dated from the 12th or 13th century, and its hollow interior hid the Connecticut Royal Charter of 1662
Popular history reminds us of more than a few individual trees such as the Charter Oak of Connecticut, the General Sherman and General Grant giant sequoias of California, the iconic Cedar of Lebanon that adorns the flag of a nation, and logos of rain trees (Acacia) in documentaries about Africa. The small city of Ceiba in northeast Puerto Rico is a standing tribute to the magnificent kapok tree, Ceiba pentandra that is prominent in local forests and is favored as an urban street tree. Guanacaste is the common name of the Enterolobium cyclocarpum that is clearly appealing and widespread in the range lands of sun drenched Guanacaste Province in Costa Rica; it is also the national tree of Costa Rica. Some of the aforementioned trees have historical significance that morphed into their legacy status but all of them have certain aesthetic qualities that distinguished them. Lord Buddha reportedly spent many formative hours under the shade of a Peepul (Ficus religiosa) Tree, and the Peepul Tree continues to be a prominent aspect of Hindu religious lure.
A depiction of a Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) tree adorns the flag and paper currency of Lebanon. Presumably the aesthetic appeal prompted the choice, and now that symbolism makes the cedar a legacy tree. Perhaps no other species has a longer written history and more known legacy stories than the Ginkgo biloba of China. Human and botanical history are linked in the annals of Chinese culture, as made especially pertinent in the work by botanical photographer and writer Jimmy Shen. His book: (Ginkgo, Melody of Nature, Jimmy Shen, 2015. Ginkgo Press, Beijing 110pp.) sets an example of aesthetic appeal married to a thousand year old cultural legacy.