Kousa dogwood

At first glance, they look like an alien life form: little pink globules hanging from gracefully branching ornamental trees. And this year, they’re everywhere: golf-ball-dimpled fruit dotting a tree in front of the President’s house at Keene State, and baubles bobbing on a tree by a bench in front of the now-closed Waban branch library in Newton.

Sign of autumn

I don’t remember seeing pink, dimpled globules hanging from trees last year, but surely they were there: the trees that currently sport spherical pink Easter eggs aren’t new to their neighborhoods, and neither am I. But I had to do a double-, triple-, then quadruple-take when I first noticed this year’s strange fruit. These alien life forms hang from trees with dogwood-looking leaves, and dogwoods are popular ornamentals in both Newton and Keene. But the dogwoods I’m familiar with–the wild kind–bear clusters of bright red berries, not funky, fleshy globes.

A quick Google search solves the mystery: Kousa dogwood, alternately called Asian or Japanese flowering dogwood. Apparently ornamental Asian dogwoods don’t follow the same fruiting form as their wild American counterparts. But still, I’m left with another, more pressing enigma: how could I have walked for so long through the neighborhoods I and these dogwoods share without having previously noticed them?

Baby head with two trees

Dreaming of trees

I’d love to think at least one of the giant bronze baby heads planted outside the Huntington Street entrance of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is dreaming of trees. Titled “Day and Night,” the installation was sculpted by Spanish realist Antonio López García and consists of a pair of bookended baby heads: one awake, the other sleeping. Today, both heads were showered with windblown crabapple blossoms.

If you, too, wish to dream of trees, click over to 10,000 Birds for this month’s installment of the Festival of the Trees. There you’ll find enough tree-related links to keep your eyes wide open.


Click here for my photo set featuring Antonio López García’s big babies. You can see their conception here and installation here. Enjoy!

But is it Art?

Yesterday, it was the shoe-fruits of London. Today, it’s the coat hangers of Keene. What do you think will start growing on trees tomorrow?

Even trees get thirsty sometimes

With all the spring sun we’ve been getting in New England these days, even the trees are thirsty, sneaking surreptitious sips of high fructose corn syrup in the form of McDonald’s sodas. Either that, or “leaf litter” isn’t the only kind of dry detritus you can find in the woods in springtime.


Last week in Keene, we had our first fire warning of the season: a reminder that low humidity and dry leaf litter make for dangerously flammable forests. This weekend in Waban, the “fire” outside is metaphoric, with forsythia blooming like a yellow-hot blaze in suburban yards and gardens.

Although I mentioned Earth Day earlier this week, yesterday I was remiss in remembering Arbor Day. Steve was similarly remiss, mentioning today that he’d forgotten both Earth and Arbor Days, presumably because he was “not watching the calendar closely enough!” For good or ill, neither Earth nor Arbor Day is on my calendar, but I’d like to think that doesn’t matter: wouldn’t it better for us (and the health of the planet) if we spent less time watching our calendars and more time listening to trees?

In New England at least, the trees right now will tell you it’s spring, their “words” being unfolding leaves, blooming flowers, and (in the case of pines) a yellow dusting of pollen. Before he died, Thoreau had intended to construct a local “Kalendar” that, according to Bradley Dean, would provide a biological time-line of the natural year, with the blooming and breeding of plant and animal species serving as temporal markers:

Apparently he intended to write a comprehensive history of the natural phenomena that took place in his hometown each year. Although he planned to base his natural history of Concord upon field observations recorded in his journal over a period of several years, he would synthesize those observations so that he could construct a single “archetypal” year, a technique he had used to wonderful effect in Walden.

Maple blossoms

In my neck of the woods, I’ve learned, trout lilies bloom at the end of April, and forsythias flame not long after. I don’t need a calendar to remind me of that fact, just my blog (the 21st-century, high-tech equivalent of Thoreau’s journal) and photo archives. Next week, I’m hoping the wake-robin (Trillium erectum, also known as purple or red trillium) will be blooming since I have an unofficial ritual of blogging them on May 1st, whether at Goose Pond or Beech Hill. After May 1st, I’ve learned from years of New Hampshire living, the black flies will emerge, and my days in the woods around Keene will be numbered, at least until blood-sucking insects die off.

It might be true that the trees of the greater Boston area are fond of McDonald’s soda, but I’d prefer that instead of “loving it,” they simply leaf it. Steve rightfully notes that every day should be both Earth and Arbor day, for “When should we not be thinking about trees, about the health of the planet?” Between you and me, I think the trees in New England and elsewhere would be healthier if they just said no to soda.

This post is a roundabout excuse to mention two tree-related things. First, the Nature Conservancy is spearheading an effort called Plant a Billion Trees which is attempting to re-forest a richly bio-diverse (and unfortunately endangered) area in Brazil. If you, like Steve, can’t plant a tree in your urban backyard, you might consider donating to the cause of “One dollar – One tree – One planet.”


Second, don’t forget to submit your tree-related links and pictures to next month’s Festival of the Trees. You can send permalinks to mike (at) 10000birds (dot) com, submit them via the Contact page at 10,000 Bird’s, or use the Festival’s online submission form. The deadline is April 29, so get moving!

Shade trees

Noticing is addictive. Once you see one tree silhouetted against a building, you start seeing shade trees–the upright ghosts of living trees outlined as shadows on nearby vertical surfaces–everywhere you go.

Shade trees

I’ve talked before about color-collecting, the practice of choosing a particular color (say, red), and then taking a walk in which you try to notice every instance of said color (a stop sign, a passing jogger’s hat, a parked car, a cast-off Coke can). The first time I talked here about color-collecting, I reasoned “If we’re going to travel the territory of our mundane lives, we might as well notice the neighbors.” Now nearly four years later, I find myself nodding emphatically to my own argument. What better way to make yourself at home in your environs than by getting to know your neighbors, both the actual trees you meet and the ghostly shades they cast?

I took today’s photos last weekend, and over the intervening days, I’ve been seeing tree shadows everywhere: on buildings, on cars, on fences, on other trees. The natural place for any shadow to lie is on the ground, shade gravitating like water to low places. But in a forest of trees or a suburb of houses, there are many available objects to catch any given shadow. Presumably any of these shades would prefer to lie lazily on snow-blanketed ground, but instead, they’ve been snagged on verticality. Can you imagine the courage of an east-facing facade that stands unmoving even while knowing the weight of a shade tree will fall upon it every sunny morning?

Shade trees

In the summer time, these shade trees are shapeless and amorphous: dark blobs that bespeak the leaves of others. In a snowy season, shade trees are stripped skeletal, the shadows they cast tracing their inner anatomy. In summer, we see superficially, lulled by the loveliness of leaves; in winter, all that gets cast away like so many veils, and we see (truly) what lies beneath.

Some say shadows are unreal, the lingering after-affect of light and enlightenment. But why should we privilege the cause over the effect? Once a tree has grown, we have no use for its now-split seed; once we’ve reached our own adulthood, we’re discouraged from behaving as babies. Leaves are arboreal flesh, branches arboreal bones, and tree shades arboreal spirit. If over-arching trees add value to shady suburban homes, why wouldn’t the winter shadows these same tree cast be likewise prized?

Click here for the complete photo-set of shade trees. And while you’re collecting all things arboreal, click over to the March 2008 Festival of Trees, currently hosted on Orchards Forever. Enjoy!

Beware of treated trees

It’s a New Year, so what better way to celebrate the 19th edition of the Festival of the Trees than by looking back on the trees that were. Marja-Leena offered an arboreal version of the year in review by posting the trees of her year. In a similarly retrospective vein, Granny J shared images of dead and dying cottonwood trees, and sarala touched on another kind of arboreal loss in a review of John Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce focusing on the tragedy of North American deforestation.

Tire swings

While we’re on the topic of deforestation, Kilroy has moving (as in video!) proof of how professionals topple trees without destroying nearby buildings (or crushing nearby video-bloggers). And if loggers are going to fell trees to make paper anyway, Julie Dunlap reviews a handful of books about trees that belong on any tree-hugger’s shelf.

Trees felled by age, storms, and even foresters’ axes are one thing…ornamental trees attacked by college students are another. Here in New England, December, 2007 began with news of an arboreal hate crime masquerading as a college prank. You’d think that in the typically tree-hugging People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts, college kids would be more “green”…but apparently Ivy League pranksters have no particular fondness for Japanese maples and crabapples.

An article from the Boston Globe suggests, though, that it may be unnecessary to be kind to individual trees in an age where we can genetically design their replacements. O brave new world, that has such trees in’t!.

Picture perfect trees

Birch bark

Poised on the cusp of several seasons, December was an image-rich month for trees in the blogosphere. Fotokew shared an image of lingering autumn leaves, Anthony McCune shared the secret (or perhaps we should say squirrelly) lives of trees, and Arboreality shared images of snow while educating us about the annual phenomenon of leaf marcescence in oak trees.

Dr. Omed’s Tent Show Revival continues to be a source of inspired images, first a pair of pictures showing burr oak parts (the second of them looking enough like a Buddhist mudra as to make for an apt arboreal altar icon), and next a series of Tulsa trees toppled by an ice storm. Wandering Around Kansas also illustrated the effects of ice storms on trees, and CBS News featured video on efforts to save the “Survivor Tree”–a nearly century-old elm that survived the Oklahoma City bombing–from similar ice damage.

Ivy on evergreen

Elsewhere in the December blogosphere, 3rd House Journal shared pictures of New England birches while Jean Morris featured the same species across the pond; Jean also blogged a photo-mosaic showing a tree’s twiggy complexity. Similarly breath-taking (or breath-inspiring?) are FrizzyLogic‘s images of solstice tree moments, and Kim Nixon shared a similarly lovely moment in mist woods. Trees serve as the literal backdrop of several closeup images of bracket fungus appearing on A Passion for Nature.

In the category of “trees over time,” A. Decker blogged a series of images showing the many moods of two trees. Through the deft wielding of an artist’s pencil, Ester shares the shaded nuances of a couple of bonsai trees. Urban Extension featured a trio of tree posts: two about otters and oaks, and a third about an ancient walnut.

Festive trees


December is a bittersweet time for trees. Denuded of fall foliage, deciduous trees here in the Northern Hemisphere are no longer the focus of visual attention; featured in holiday celebrations, evergreens typically have to die to become decorative. QAZSE laments the violence inherent in the Christmas tree harvest, and other bloggers suggest more eco-friendly alternatives. Here in New England, the village of Waban features a live evergreen as its Festive Holiday Tree…and Universal Hub posted an image I’d snapped of this same tree reflected in a puddle of snowmelt.

Elsewhere, bloggers snapped images of other creative re-interpretations of the traditional Tannenbaum. The Jersey Exile, for instance, shared an image of a Gloucester Christmas tree made from lobster traps while Blaugustine posted two pictures of a live urban tree bedecked by sunlight for the holidays. (I can’t seem to permalink directly to Blaugustine’s two relevant posts, so you’ll need to scroll down…or click here and here for pictures alone).

Evergreen mortality notwithstanding, Jim Hession shared the frustration (shared by many of us) of erecting the perfect Christmas tree. And when it comes to perfect Christmas trees, GrrlScientist posted proof that New York City’s Lincoln Center Christmas tree might take the prize, at least by night.

Poetic trees

Two tree cavities

In the realm of poetry, Dave shared translations of five tree poems from Renaissance Spain, which struck me as being both tree- and mother-centered. Apparently if you Love Your Mother (whether she be Mother Earth, the Virgin Mary, or dear old Mom), loving trees is a natural corollary (a lesson lost on certain Ivy League pranksters?) Kim Nixon compared the hurt of poems not making the cut to the woodpile left in a tornado’s aftermath. 3rd House Journal illustrated in words and pictures the connections between trees and neural networks. And Beloved Dreamer shared the sense of loss and longing evoked by a memorial wreath fading at a crossroads: even evergreens eventually point to mortality.

Mythic trees

Plastic flowers

There are real trees, there are trees in our dreams, and then there are trees that take root in both worlds. Karen Dowell shared the rich folkloric history of the rowan tree, also known as mountain ash or caorunn. Terry* featured an article by Nalini M. Nadkarni on unsung arboreal heroes. Pat Doyle explored the Feng Shui connection between trees and spiritual healing. Artistic Journeys has featured an ongoing re-vision of the traditional Tarot deck, many of the cards depicting trees such as this image of strength.

In the realm of American history, EHT of the American Presidents Blog shares the story of Presidential trees…and the connection between Presidents and trees goes far deeper than that legend about George Washington and an ill-fated cherry tree. And blogging from Malaysia, Lye Tuck-Po recounts the transformative experience of entering a rain forest for the first time. In the natural world, the mythic one, and the histories that transpire in between, trees loom larger than life. That’s a lesson we can carry from any year into the next.

The February, 2008 festival of the trees will be hosted at Ginkgo Dreams. Please send any and all tree-related links to kelly (at) ginkgodreams (dot) com with “Festival of the Trees” in the subject line, or use the automated submission form. The deadline for February submissions is January 29.


This past weekend was sunny, so the trees glowed as if someone had turned them on with a switch.


Leslee has blogged the TVs of others, and Maria has blogged others’ dreams. On a weekend when many New Englanders headed to New Hampshire to peep northern leaves, I was considering the leaves of others in Massachusetts: the neon flashes of foliage seen during my routine weekend morning dog-walks in Newton.

I’ve spend spending my weekends in Newton for several months now, and I’m still not comfortable taking photos of the residential neighborhoods there. In Keene, I’ve been snapping impertinent pictures for over three years, so my neighbors have grown accustomed to that crazy woman who walks her dog with a camera. In Keene, I have no qualms about walking into the middle of a quiet residential street, crouching on my hams, and shooting whatever strikes my fancy; if someone were to question my odd behavior, I’d simply respond that I live here. For good or ill, I haven’t attained that level of comfort in Newton. Although these days I spend more time in Newton than I do in Keene, I still don’t feel like I live there. My mailing address remains in Keene, as do most of my belongings, and Keene is where I pay my own rent, utilities, and other necessities of “Real Life.”


In Newton, I still feel like an interloper, as if at any moment the Propriety Police will come upon me unannounced and escort me from the place: “I’m sorry, but your kind isn’t welcome here.” I’m not sure where or why I’ve gotten this impression: it’s not as if anyone in Newton or elsewhere in Massachusetts has ever treated me like an unwelcome outsider. Perhaps my unease stems from my earliest days in New England, when I was a fresh-faced graduate student at Boston College and couldn’t afford to live in Chestnut Hill, the tony Newton neighborhood near campus. I still can’t afford to live in Newton, even more than a decade (and a completed PhD) later. Profs and professionals abound in Newton, which boasts an inordinate concentration of people with PhDs…and yet when I walk the streets there, I’m acutely aware that my adjunct instructor’s paycheck does not reflect my academic credentials. Although I really am a doctor, I typically feel like I only play one in academe. In a lush and leafy neighborhood where people drive nice cars, live in even nicer homes, and enjoy other accoutrements of financial success, at times I feel like I’m only playing house.


When I first began teaching as a graduate student at Boston College, back when I lived a long subway-ride away in relatively affordable, working-class Malden, my grad student colleagues and I used to discuss our lingering sense of fraudulence. Standing in front of a classroom of freshmen, we felt we were faking it, our knowledge only diploma-deep. Surely if the Real Professors in our midst could detect phoniness like a stench in the breeze, they’d sniff us out for sure. When would our freshmen, we wondered amongst ourselves, figure out that we were clueless students just like they were, only a couple years’ older?

More than a decade (and a completed PhD) later, I still feel like a fraudulent faker: I somehow feel it’s only a matter of time before some intrepid Toto pulls back the curtain and reveals my show as sham. Walking the streets of a lush suburb populated by the Settled and Successful, I feel more like the clueless graduate student I was than the presumed professional I’ve become. At what point, I wonder, will someone figure out I don’t belong in Newton but am simply faking it?

Golden glow

Newton, like other surrounding suburbs, is a bedroom community for Boston, and I’m mindful that most folks don’t like strangers snapping pictures in their bedrooms. On Sunday when I snapped these shots of the turning leaves and neighboring houses I regularly see when I walk Reggie there, I did so semi-surreptitiously. It felt weird to be ogling other people’s leaves, as if leaf-peeping and window-peeping share more than a common gerund. Would people mind if I shot images of “their” houses even if I did so from the public space of a city sidewalk? Would homeowners be rightfully protective of “their” trees? Emerson claimed that poets are the only ones who own the landscape, for “There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts.” But still, the citizens of Newton pay a pretty penny for the privacy their abundantly leafy trees afford; isn’t it somehow criminal–or at least morally suspect–to intrude?


Faced with the ethical question to shoot or not to shoot, I chose the former. Given the number of visiting Massachusetts leaf-peepers I’ve shared New Hampshire roads with over the years, it seemed fitting to return the compliment. There’s plenty of landscape, I think, to satisfy poets, profs, and professionals alike, at least from the suburban safety of Newton’s streets and sidewalks. If we can share the road, presumably we can share the gleaming autumn leaves that right now are screening our sky.

Click here for a photo-set of images from Sunday’s dog-walk. Enjoy!

Sunrise meadow

This morning it was too dark and rainy to shoot my requisite meadow picture before practicing with the Open Meadow Zen Group in Lexington, MA, so here’s an image I took last month. One of the interesting things about Zen practice is the seasonal change you notice. If you regularly practice at the same time of day, you’ll notice the shortening or lengthening of days, differences in the volume and kinds of bird song, and the comings and goings of frogs and other wild creatures.


If you regularly practice Zen in the same place, you’ll also notice the habits of your presumably non-sentient neighbors. Trees excel at meditation: being rooted, they can’t help but be grounded. Many times I’ve wanted to dart out of the Dharma room under the mistaken belief that running away would bring relief to my achy legs and thought-addled mind…but trees know to the depths of their xylem and phloem that you can neither run nor hide.

Every time I go to practice at the Open Meadow Zen Group, I park my car under the same willow tree, my windshield curtained beneath a screen of pendant, weeping branches. There is a similar willow tree that stands near the pond that separates the Providence Zen Center from the monastery up its hill; once, I’m told, Zen Master Seung Sahn said this willow was the brightest Buddha he knew, for it practiced the art of standing still but flexible, bowing in the wind rather than breaking.

Stabbed in the heart(wood)

That Providence tree might indeed be a great Buddha, but the willow I park beside in Lexington isn’t so self-assured, relying upon an old metal plate in her trunk to keep her heartwood safe from decay and nesting squirrels. And in another state, along the shores of the Ashuelot River in Keene, NH, at least one tree has learned what can happen if you bare your barked breast to college kids: without a metal plate for protection, you might end up stabbed in the heart(wood).

Being both strong and flexible is all well and good, but when you can neither run nor hide from the impertinent butter-knives of college students, a protective metal plate might be a better idea. A tree with a slab of metal bolted to its side looks a bit like Frankenstein’s monster with his neck-bolts and scars, but perhaps being a Frankentree is better than trusting yourself to the elements, inquisitive squirrels, and the occasional stabbing.

This is my response to a call from the Festival of the Trees for spooky tree submissions. If you have any Halloween-worthy tree pictures or posts, please submit them by October 26.