A Few Lines on Striped Maples

Livingisdetail, winner of the Name-and-genderize-the-baby-sea-turtle contest, has won 500 words on the topic of her choice.  She gave me two possibilities; I chose the topic, “If you were a tree, which tree would you be and why?”

striped maple
I couldn’t live without trees. While the woods are only one type of environ- ment, they are as much a part of me as my fingers. Trees have cooled me, comforted me, hidden me, held me ever since I can remember. I would rather hike a wooded trail than stroll a sandy beach or dine in a fancy restaurant. Don’t get me wrong: invite me and I will come. I’ve traveled to a number of places now, and marvelled at many landscapes, from Ireland’s Burren to Hawaii’s pahoehoe fields to New Zealand’s Franz Joseph Glacier; but I couldn’t live without trees.

Now I’m asked to imagine being a tree. Uh-oh. This is the sort of soul-baring exercise from which, if accidentally caught in one, I excuse myself for a potty break and run away from the conference centre for two hours until it’s over. Turtle pulls in her limbs, locks up her carapace, and rolls downhill into the pond. No arm-swaying while mouthing someone else’s homemade liturgy for me, nuh-uh, I’m outa here!

Not because it’s meaningless, but because it’s too personal. To me, a group of people pretending to be trees together is as wrongheaded as an orgy. Writing about it, though, is much less threatening. I can take my time, research, reflect, rewrite, until my response feels right.

If I were a tree, then, I think I would be a Striped Maple. In the photo above, you can see a nice example of one, about to be elbowed out of the scene by the Sugar Maple whose leaves, in the upper right hand corner, are the largest ones in the picture. The casual observer, in fact, would likely identify the main tree as a rather spindly Sugar Maple.

In comparison to its cousin, the little-known Striped Maple hasn’t much to offer. Its maximum height is a third of the other; it lives for a fraction of the other’s lifespan; much of that time is spent as a sapling or a shrub; it doesn’t provide syrup; its weak wood is good only for pulp; it doesn’t adorn any flag. It is regularly poisoned as a pest by forestry workers. It is overshadowed by Sugar Maples, American Beech, Red Oak, and the glorious White Pine. What good is it?

Maybe you’re asking the wrong creatures, whispers the Creator. Try asking the Snowshoe Hares, who chew its shoots. Or the Ruffed Grouse, Red Squirrels, and Chipmunks, who eat its seeds. Or the Moose, who browse on it so often that it is also called Moose Maple or Moosewood. Or the little birds, afraid to nest in the canopy, prefering its low branches. Or the burnt land, who welcomes it as one of the first trees to begin the forest anew. Or if you must ask humans, ask the artists and photographers who notice its beautiful striped bark, its leaves the width of two hand spans, its flowers strung like tiny bells, a dozen to a strand, its bright yellow autumn foliage set against its red twigs. Ask them. They’ll tell you.

One could do worse than be a Striped Maple.

6 Responses to A Few Lines on Striped Maples

  1. goodbear says:

    that’s pretty. i’d be a boojum.

  2. lavenderbay says:

    A boojum, Goodbear? I googled it. Cool! Looks like a dreamscape tree, a cactus or a gigantic fork. Maybe it symbolizes a “fork in the road”, while you’re considering on moving to a new town? 🙂

  3. livingisdetail says:

    What a beautiful post. Thank you lavenderbay. I had no idea that people get together and pretend to be trees. Still, I relate to trees and although it is hard to pick one I would be a red gum.

  4. lavenderbay says:

    Hi Livingisdetail, I’m glad you liked your prize.
    The tree group thing is one of those non-denominational, touchy-feely “spiritual exercises” that creep me out. I used to regard myself not as a turtle but as a sea urchin, so I suppose the new identity marks an improvement in the emotion department, but still… one can only take so much.
    And is the red gum tree the one Kookaburra sits in? We learned the song in primary school, and I was delighted to hear the tune peeking out from Men At Work’s “Down Under” a dozen years later.

  5. livingisdetail says:

    Oh my goodness. Sorry to chose a creepy one. Blame the cold virus. It is a tricky critter.

    The kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, merry, merry king of the bush is he. Laugh Kookaburra (repeat). That is a song that can get stuck in your head if you are not very careful. I think Kookaburras sit in just about any gum tree. I have at least one living near me and he doesn’t mind powerlines either. Ah, Down Under – America’s Cup time. Now theres another song that can get stuck too.

  6. […] prize: Again, like last time, I will write 500 words on the topic of the winner’s […]

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