Most of my childhood memories, outside of two years in Australia, are nestled in South Carolina. We lived on Hickory Street in base housing, about two blocks from Shaw Elementary. Living there, I can recall only two types of trees. First, we had a huge magnolia tree in our front yard. It had broad green leaves that were on the tree year round, except for the few that would have turned brown and dropped each year. There were wonderfully rich smelling flowers, which when you took one of the petals and roughed it up a little with your fingers, left what could only be called a beautiful scent that lasted sometimes even after you washed your hands for dinner. The other great thing about magnolias is that after the flowers bloomed, they left marvelous seed pods that you could either find on the ground or break off, which had a stem that made it look – and perform – like a hand grenade. In our many battles, we would grab a pod, break off the stem and throw it as hard as possible at our warring enemies. Usually we missed, but when we made contact, the pod was heavy enough to leave a welt – a battlefield scar, and a warning to all who would try to attack us.
The other type of tree – and I only remember one other – were the pine trees which grew by the tens of thousands it seemed all over the base, and especially around the playground that was situated across the street and behind a group of houses. What I remember about the pine trees is that they had enormous pinecones. They must have been more than a foot long, with sharp points all over them. At certain times of the year, the cones would fall, and if you weren’t paying attention, they acted like bombs falling out of a plane, and they would crack you on the head with real malice. They were too big and heavy to throw, but as little kids, we appreciated their size and power. It wasn’t until much later, up north, that I found types of pine trees that produced little weeny cones. I still miss the huge ones.
This morning, just at dawn, while I was driving Cheri to work, she mentioned how beautiful it was to see the morning sun illuminating the branches on all the trees that line our streets and avenues. They were camera-worthy, actually, as the red morning light gleamed all around them. I realized, of course, that the reason they were so beautiful and looked this way, was because the last official leaf fell off the last official tree last weekend. The snow we had earlier has all melted, and the grass is still strangely green, the product of some good moisture, so it’s an odd sight. It looks like early summer with millions of dead trees. Basically, we have giant sticks standing in our yards, along our boulevards and in what they call our “green areas” – large open undeveloped spots left by developers as required by city ordinance.
We actually have a good number of trees in most of our towns and cities. It’s important to realize that almost every tree in eastern North Dakota was either planted, or is a descendant of a tree planted by pioneers. They were often “tree claims,” which were groves of trees planted as a condition of homesteading, to hopefully break up the hundreds of miles of prairie, or they were shelter belts, planted for miles to slow down the blowing snow, or blowing topsoil between plowed fields. We do have some evergreens, like the five huge spruce in our backyard, planted by the first owner of our house. Most of the evergreens, actually are spruce trees, and they grow well. The only thing maddening is to see where some boneheaded homeowner decided he wanted to turn his beautiful spruce into a pine tree. Spruce are created to spread their branches to the ground, giving shelter for birds and rabbits and such. To me, that’s one of the most beautiful parts of the tree. So, when some goofball comes along, and decides he likes “his” tree to look like a pine tree, with no low-hanging branches, the way they are drawn in cartoons, he will take his little chainsaw and chop all the branches off the bottom four or five feet of the tree. Voila – instant pine tree. The trouble of course is that the spruce, over the coming years, will have its now-lowest branches begin to sag, to try to cover the ground, which then leaves gaps above them, and the tree becomes a huge mess. Sad. First rule of tree pruning: do no harm – and don’t be an idiot.
But now the trees in town are standing quietly. Some folks have gotten out before the snow and put Christmas lights up already. That works for small trees, but most people can only get the bottom half of a big tree lighted, which always looks like of silly, but at least there is light in our darkness, just as the bare branches at dawn allow the light to shine through.
They say that trees are good for the environment – that they scrub the air of pollutants and freshen things. I have actually always thought they WERE the environment, and I like to think they were created by God first of all to bring beauty to the world. I’ll bet there were spruce trees in the Garden of Eden.
When we walk around with our eyes open, when we intentionally observe our world, we see beauty in every season, and in every corner – again, when we train our eyes to see what God has made. Take time to look outside today – take a drive or a walk, for the purpose of seeing what may have been hidden from your intentional sight. Pick a favorite tree, and watch it for this coming year. Enter into your world, even pained for now with pandemic, and see beyond the mess, to the Creation. It’s worth seeing. Just watch out for the magnolia pods, and falling cones.
Word of the day: abequitate. Pronounced ab-ECK-wi-tate. It comes from the Latin, and it far too elegant of a word to be used in a Saturday afternoon Old West movie. Ab, of course means “away from” and equito, or its root, equus, means “horse,” and the first word, the verb, means “to ride on horseback.” Some ol’ grizzly varmint who steals the gold off the stagecoach and rides quickly away to his hideout is actually abequitating, as he “rides away.” I doubt you’ll hear someone yell, “Quick! He’s abequitating!”
There is actually a partner word to go along with it, which is “adequitate.” Notice that the prefix changes, which changes the direction of the horseride. Ad means “with or to,” so when you and I saddle up some fine summer morning to take the horses out, we will end up adequitating – riding along together… that is, until I fall off or get bucked, because I really don’t know how to “equitate” at all…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.