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Wednesday, August 09, 2006


sculpture by Gabriel Akagawa

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"What happened to the tulip poplars?"

I derive strength, energy, and peace from trees; I believe they are healing creatures with souls. In the south, where I grew up, a beautiful species grows, known locally as the "tulip poplar," and boasting the grand Latin name of liriodendron tulipifera. These magnificent trees grow very, very tall and strong, and their grey, ridged bark proudly covers them in long vertical lines like the wales on corduroy pants. Their leaves are shaped much like the heads of cats, adding to this tree's appeal for a lover of felines like myself. (I remember an elementary school teacher describing the leaves as "kitty cat heads.") The very best thing of all about tulip poplars, though, is that they produce gorgeous tulip-like, lovely yellow flowers with a bit of orange around the center, sturdy, somewhat woody looking blossoms. I have never seen another tree with anything remotely like them, with the exception of the magnolia, although magnolia flowers are white and considerably larger (tulip poplars are not actually true poplars; rather, they belong to the magnolia family).

When I was only five or six years old and living in Smyrna, Georgia, near Atlanta, I and my parents lived in a house built...believe it or not....of LOGS that we called, affectionately, "The Log Cabin." In the front yard of our home, the address of which was 444 Pine Tree Drive, were definitely plenty of pine trees, but also a great many enormous (especially if you're six!) tulip poplars. I spent a lot of time alone playing in the front yard running around and lounging among those tall, sturdy trees. I remember actually talking to them, something of which I'm not at all ashamed: I still talk to trees now at the age of 37. I find them healing, compassionate beings. These trees were my friends. They shaded me and my family from the hot Georgia sunshine and provided me a majickal refuge where I could pretend and hope and dream as small children are likely to do. So you can imagine my sadness when I came home from first grade one afternoon to discover a dreadful thing: my father had had ALL of them cut down! I was horrified. I remember crying and asking "what happened to the tulip poplars?" To this day I have no real answer. I just knew I could no longer pick up the bright flowers from the ground and dissect them with my curious young hands. I knew I could no longer lounge and ponder in their shadows nor run around their thick trunks. Gone.

I offer this brief story in their memory, that their legacy, and that the legacy of other trees long ago thoughtlessly and heedlessly cut down or wrenched from the earth might be recognized by someone somewhere who may not have noticed so much before. I ask that we all consider the soulfulness of trees and their power to heal, calm, protect, and nurture, especially nowadays when such power is more needful perhaps than ever before.

Blessed be the trees!

Alex Ledbetter
Minneapolis, Minnesota
June, 2004