Something this week turned my thoughts to trees—perhaps my home office window framing the golden leaves of a tulip poplar tree, or the vibrant red of a maple across the street, or the poem, Trees, by Joyce Kilmer, that turned up in my e-mail box. Who among us does not remember Kilmer’s poetic words? “I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree…” Although legends have passed through the decades and trees in various parts of our country have been designated as the inspiration for Mr. Kilmer’s words, his grandson believes that the poet wrote about trees in general. The man, who died in 1918, obviously saw beauty in trees. His words live on to inspire the generations that follow him.
Jack Herschend, co-founder of Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, is as passionate as Joyce Kilmer about trees. Jack says his mother was quite possibly the first “tree-hugger.” While building the reproduction mining town theme park back in 1960, the stories about Mary Herschend firing employees—including Jack—are legend. Most of the incidents had something to do with cutting down a tree.
Jack has redeemed himself over and over for felling a large dogwood to make way for the steam train’s track through the park. He is recognized for his life-long commitment to planting trees, having already planted more than 100,000 in the Ozark Mountains. His goal is to plant one million trees.
He also created Gift of Green, dedicated to tree planting and conservation, in order to replace trees lost in the growth explosion of the Branson area. His non-profit organization operates a tree farm that grows sugar maples and white pines. Since 1993, hundreds of trees have been distributed annually to individuals and businesses. Often, Jack personally plants a tree for a friend.
Since I grew up in the Ozarks, I’m partial to tree-covered mountains. The brilliant colors of hardwoods in autumn create my favorite season. One recent September, my husband, Lee Smith, and I took a Workamping job in Bar Harbor, Maine. We watched the maples turn from green to fiery red before a chilling wind whisked their leaves away at the end of October.
Yet, driving Highway 12 through the Lolo Pass from Missoula, Montana, to Kamiah, Idaho, the tall green firs with identical pointy heads also satisfy my longing for trees. With the fresh smell of pine wafting through our motorhome window, I gaze at trees so perfectly formed that I imagine them as cut-outs for Christmas cards. Some species wave lacey fronds, reminding me of fancy ladies at a ball.
Then there are the survivor trees—those that dig roots deep into rocky crevices and grow, despite harsh weather and a lack of soil. In the rain forest on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, trees sprout from fallen ones—called nursery trees. Their roots grasp the rotting logs like giant claws. Hiking through the forest, I realized the tree roots reaching out to trip an animated character in movies had a basis in reality.
In Joshua Tree National Park, the Joshua tree’s grotesque shape stands out against mountains of layered rock. Struggling in a desert environment, the tree grows only one-half inch annually. At 40 feet, the tallest Joshua tree in the park is estimated to be 900 years old.
Trees are an important source of oxygen on our planet. Their roots hold precious soil in place. Their shade provides rest from the sun; their branches make homes for woodland creatures. But to me? Trees are sustenance to my soul. In my travels, I’ve met trees of every size and description—and I hope to meet many more before I hang up my motorhome keys.
Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com