Nature study is a hard sell at our house. But I know we can at least make lists. And the northwest is nothing if not forest, and in the forest there are trees. One M & M per tree listing in the nature notebook wasn’t enough, evidently, to buy a snark-free walk, but, Pojar in hand, we set out.
Crossing our street: “You can put crabapple in your list, Miss T. We spent enough time in those trees, picking apples and making jam.”
“Alright.” Monotone. “How long do I have to do this?”
“Until 4 o’clock.” Half an hour. She will know the names of the trees in our neighborhood, at least. How can you have a relationship with it if you don’t know its name? She snarkily asked if she could just name them all George and be done. My husband didn’t help. He thought she had a good idea.
Our street is full of trees, many native, some strangers. It is November, so most of the leaves have fallen. One neighbor has an enormous Western Red Cedar, so huge that its trunk is naturally buttressed like a gothic church. It is behind a fence, but I can pick up its seed cones near the street. “Do you know where there’s another?” I ask. “Noooo,” she says, tentatively. “Grandma’s woodshed is built around one.” If you lean against it and breathe in the scent of its trunk, a woody, oily perfume greets your nose. When cut the boards smell spicy. Miss T. played in that woodshed among the stacks of wood. Pojar says that a Coast Salish myth has the Great Spirit creating the tree to honor a man that was always helping others – so useful was the tree for clothing, baskets and shelter.
We cross the street. “Funny, I can’t find these maple trees in the book,” I say. But she is quiet, picking up leaves. They are native big leaf and big tooth maple. She notes the difference in their leaves. They were a beautiful red-orange last week.
We cross the street again. “The cottonwood is here somewhere.” “Where is it?” she asks, betraying some interest. She and her brother used to collect bags of the fluffy cotton in the late spring as it collected on the sidewalk. The tree is in a stand of alder on a steep hillside. We can’t get close enough to be sure. None of the trees quite match the trees in Pojar. She resumes a petulant air and continues down the street. I follow her with a sigh, not knowing whether it’s time for an upbraiding or not, but knowing for myself that I wanted to stay out until dark becoming better acquainted with the trees.
“Let’s stick with the conifers.” I say, ignoring the attitude, but suddenly she is looking past me, her eyes wide. Gudelia is here, on her walk. Gudelia is the kind of person who has such complete faith in your power to be good that you cannot help but live up to her view of you. Miss T is no exception. Gudelia hugs Miss T and walks on. We are near the park now, and Miss T is skipping, the joy of open space, clear air and unconditional love having worked their magic.
“Look, Miss T, a Douglas Fir.” Miss T has been studying David Douglas, the Scottish naturalist responsible for many of the names of flora and fauna in the Northwest. Pseudotsuga menziesii, the species name came from Archibald Menzies, who first noted it on expedition with Vancouver. It’s a Christmas tree when young, nothing like the tall columns of the forest so I have trouble recognizing it for its youth, but the seed cones have the distinctive mouse-feet-and-tail bracts emerging from the scales. I will have Miss T draw the cone for her term exam.
By now it’s time to go home, but I’ve spotted an Amabilis fir, with one purple barrel shaped cone left intact. I must have it. If I were to leave it, it would disintegrate in the tree, leaving only a spike behind. Miss T skips on. All the firs are young, so I can reach the cone, and it comes off intact in my hand.