I have a thing for trees. I like to sketch them. I like to examine their leaves and bark. Mostly for the sake of observation, not knowledge. I’m not sure where it started. Maybe the seed for my thing with trees started at my childhood home. Two white birch trees stood proudly in our front yard. They were there to be noticed whether you left the front door, backed out of the driveway, pulled into the driveway or simply looked out a window. I always noticed them. Maybe that’s where it began.
Growing up in New England, I have always been able to mark the seasons by the changes in the trees. The cold of winter means naked, leafless trees. The warmer days of spring mean buds and flowers (and pollen!). Summer bring trees full of leaves in a what seems like a million shades of green providing relief from the hot summer sun. And fall, it brings the changing leaves coloring our world. Autumn’s rainbow appears before winter sets in and the cycle of seasons begins again.
As much as I loathe running in the bitter cold, winter mornings, I sometimes get a glimpse of a morning sky thanks to the leafless trees. Those trees have been inspiration for pictures and small poems.
This time of year, I start to notice that shards of bark are piling up on the edges of some streets. Each year, I pick up the bark and marvel at it’s colors and shape and think – “this is so pretty, what tree is it?” Unfortunately, every time I get home from a run or a walk, I end up completely distracted from my question and never seek the answer!
Today that changed. Today I ran on a few streets that were sprinkled with this familiar bark, I picked up the bark, marveled at it’s beauty and came home wondering, “what is tree is it?” Today I returned to the closest tree, looked closely, took a few pictures, made some mental notes, sketched the bark and then hit the google machine.
I am no tree “ologist”, dendrologist, or arborist, but based on my observations and independent research, I think I have identified the Sycamore as the tree that sheds and sprinkles it’s bark in the streets. The Sycamore bark “flakes off in irregular blotches, revealing a cream or whitish inner bark”. The leaves are broad and flat and simple. Yes, I think I’ve met the Sycamore tree. (also known as the platanus occidentalis.)
This discovery and writing today took me back to my early years of teaching. Back then, in our district, we had resource teachers. Judy Hall was our science resource teacher. Her job was to support the science curriculum by working side-by-side with teachers both in and out of the classroom. I clearly remember taking a field trip with Judy and my second graders to a nature preserve. We took the kids on a walk through the preserve stopping to identify trees based on their bark and their leaves. Looking back, I wish I had connected the experience in the nature preserve to the writers I was teaching.
The Sycamore was my discovery today. Writing about the Sycamore led me to think about my teaching. Thinking is what needs to be cultivated in our youngest writers. We owe it to our children to give them time and structure to explore their thinking and make their own connections. This is how we will grow writers.