A few weeks ago, I suggested a “green” vacation reading list. Today, let’s look in a different direction and read like a municipal arborist.
“Mama had picked the spot for our log house. It nestled at the edge of the foothills in the mouth of a small canyon, and was surrounded by a grove of huge red oaks. Behind our house one could see miles and miles of the mighty Ozarks. In the spring the aromatic scent of wild flowers, redbuds, papaws and dogwoods, drifting on the wind currents, spread over the valley and around our home.
“Below our fields, twisting and winding, ran the clear blue waters of the Illinois River. The banks were cool and shady. The rich bottom land near the river was studded with tall sycamores, birches and box elders.
“To a ten-year-old country boy it was the most beautiful place in the whole world, and I took advantage of it.”
My wife assigned “Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls to our 10-year old suburban boy for his summer reading, and then she wondered about my middle school education since I had never read it. Following my son, I read the book, but with an arborist’s eye.
“I heard the ‘Bam, bam, bam’ of a woodpecker high in the top of a box elder snag. The cry of a kingfisher and the scream of a bluejay blended perfectly with the drumlike beat. A barking red squirrel, glued to the side of a hackberry tree, kept time to the music with the beat of his tail.
“Each noise I heard and each sight I saw was very familiar to me but I never grew tired of listening and watching. They were a God-sent gift and I enjoyed them all.”
Since I am unaware of a literary discipline called arboricriticism, I’ll have to settle for ecocriticism. Rawls, who published Red Fern just before Rachel Carson unsettled the status quo of the American environmental setting, nevertheless makes an environmental statement.
Before I mention two ironies, let me take the arborist bully pulpit: do your eyes see all these trees and birds, not only as you read the quotations but do you hear, see and smell them in your world? Or, does it take a novel to reveal the potential treasure around you?
So clearly Rawls portrayed nature as treasure. But I was confounded by at least two antiquated plot features. First, in his raccoon-hunting, he thinks next-to-nothing of felling an ancient tree to catch a raccoon. Second, the successful climax of the story is reached when his family is able to leave its pastoral life in exchange for an urban one.
However, similar to the literary artist, it is the job of a municipal arborist to bring that pastoral beauty over to the urban life.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business. Reach him at email@example.com.