Falling leaves and felling trees

As you probably know by now (especially if you saw yesterday’s post), I’m excited about the start of Autumn. So, let me wish you a very happy season! (And for those of you reading from the other side of the equator, happy spring!)

I love this time of year when cooler weather returns. Where I live, cooler weather has come along with cold, steady rain. I won’t complain, but after a few dreary days in a row, I’m looking forward to a clear weekend that includes sunshine without the heat of summer tagging along.

Falling leaves
The only leaves that have fallen so far dried in the late summer heat. Most leaves are still green, although I’ve noticed a few with just a hint of red to them. Giddiness! That tinge of red makes me giddy.

What makes me a little less giddy is the knowledge of the coming onslaught of falling leaves. We have lots of trees in our yard, and while I wouldn’t trade them for anything, that means lots of raking soon. And with our house on the market, my husband and I will have to tackle that chore more often to keep the yard looking tidy and inviting. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a yard without so many trees and therefore so many leaves to clear in the fall.

Felling trees
I’m grateful that our home’s builder decided to leave so many trees in our yard. So many developers in our area clear out beautiful old growth trees to make construction easier. It strikes me as a lack of imagination or vision to clear everything away.

Near my neighborhood, a developer has just begun clearing land. Whether the final result will be new homes or offices, I don’t know. What I do know is that the usual peace has been drowned with constant machinery chewing up a forest of trees.

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Where there were trees …

Now there is mud and debris where once so many trees grew, an ugly scar where there was once so much natural beauty. I’m sad to see them all go, and I feel bad for the neighbors whose houses back up to this property, especially those who didn’t realize this development was coming soon to their backyard.

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Small tree protection areas such as this one make me cringe.

I’m relieved to see a few spindly trees with the orange protection fence around them. Even those may not survive, given the small area protected and the heavy machinery that can damage the trees’ roots growing outside of the protected zone, but at least there’s some attempt to save a few of the trees.

Maybe the developer plans to plant new trees once the buildings are done, and maybe someday this space can be beautiful again. It may be years, though, before this space experiences a beautiful Autumn again.

Without trees, could Fall be as beautiful? I don’t think so. A pumpkin spice latte and a burgundy scarf are fun, but nothing can trump (for me anyway) nature’s color palette this time of year.

Aside from the trees and the aforementioned latte and scarf, I love the crisp feel of the air, the clear sky, football, happier morning runs, the pumpkin patches and kids searching for the perfect jack-o-lantern pumpkin, pie, apples, Halloween, …

So what do you love most about Autumn? I know it’s not everyone’s favorite season, but there must be something for everyone to love about this time of year. So let’s hear it. What makes you giddy about this new season?


P.S. I learned something new today and wanted to be sure to share it with you. Google keeps an archive of its doodles. So if you missed one (like yesterday’s) that everyone at the office was talking about, you can browse through them to your heart’s content. The archive also provides a great way to see what the rest of the world is celebrating.

On finding new trees to love

I hope you won’t mind a shorter-than-usual post today. Between trying to sell a house in North Carolina and buy a house in California and finalizing my manuscript to publish my first book, my 24-hour days seem even shorter than usual.

Last week brought a whirlwind house-hunting trip, but I had a few precious hours while my husband worked, and I found a new tree or two that would make my new home feel more like … well, home. Surprisingly (given that I love to support local coffee shops when possible), these particular trees live at a Starbucks in what will be my new hometown. This Starbucks has quite possibly the most beautiful outdoor seating area of any Starbucks I’ve seen:

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Just one side of the outdoor seating area; two stately oaks

Look closer, though, and you’ll see the effects of Northern California’s severe drought, browning leaves and an early leaf shed so the trees can protect themselves.

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I’m not quite sure how I’ll adjust to such a dry environment. Do you think it’s odd that I’m already praying for rain in a place where I don’t yet have any roots?

I’ll leave you with this map of all the trees in the contiguous 48 states (how I wish they had included Alaska and Hawaii in this). How’s it look where you live? If I visited, would I find plenty of new trees to fall in love with and sit under while I drink tea and write? And finally, if I may ask a favor, would you share a kernel of wisdom about uprooting gracefully and moving to what feels like a faraway land?

Sugar trees

On our recent trip to New England, my husband and I ventured into Vermont with the promise of cheese trails to rival California’s wine trails, maple syrup concoctions, and a few quiet, unhurried days to unwind.

Vermont is a lovely place in late spring (even though it felt like full-on summer when we were there). We drove among rolling hills, lush and green from trees leafed out. We saw signs at small country stores for maple cremees, and our southern brains scrambled for a moment to decipher the term. My husband’s guess was right: something akin to soft-serve ice cream.

We took a morning drive out to a working farm, Sugarbush Farm. The scenery along the way was stunning, and even without the reward of the farm at the end, the drive was worth making. The farm was filled with friendly staff, the aroma of cheese smoking in the smoke house, and lots of talk and explanation of maple syrup. We sampled cheese and syrup when we first arrived and then walked around the farm a bit before heading back in to buy a few food souvenirs. Continue reading

A musical nature

I grew up in a home where music played constantly. My dad loves classical music and has shelves and shelves of records that he frequently played while I was growing up.

In kindergarten, I started to learn violin and trained to play classically until eleventh grade, at which time I set the violin down with no intention of picking it up again.

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My violin, waiting for me to tune it up and play

My brother played piano and then guitar and then electric bass, a gifted musician who would go on to tour the country for several years with his band. While my dad and violin teachers were educating me about classical music, my brother was passing along his passion for rock and roll.

As an adult, I discovered Irish dance and music. I picked up my violin again, started referring to it as a fiddle (a word that was like nails on a chalkboard in my days of playing classical music), and began to play for fun instead of duty.

My husband’s love of music drew me to him early, and he admits to being smitten when he found I knew of Tift Merritt and her music. On our second date, he took me to a show that introduced me to singer-songwriter Todd Snider. Ours has been a life filled with music ever since.

Of music festivals and the bands that make them fabulous
This past weekend, I got to spend four days at MerleFest, one of the premier bluegrass and Americana music festivals in the country. For those four days each year, I lose sense of the outside world and drink in song after song after song.

Old favorites made appearances: Sam Bush, Scythian, Donna the Buffalo, Todd Snider, Steep Canyon Rangers. For the first time, I saw Old Crow Medicine Show and Carolina Chocolate Drops perform live. “Wow!” is all I can say about both groups’ performances.

There’s nothing better than watching talented musicians have fun while they play – and these acts did not disappoint.

A newer group, Della Mae, is one I’ve learned to love over the last two years at MerleFest. They’re a young, all-female bluegrass group, and I enjoy their playing and singing in equal measure. My ears perked up when I heard one of their new songs, Pine Tree:

Pine tree, pine tree, growing from the soil of Galilee,
Don’t be scared now, don’t be slow.
If you don’t go, the roots won’t grow.

I think there’s a sermon tucked away in that chorus. You can listen to a snippet of this song and others off the group’s upcoming record release.

Singing trees
Della Mae’s song was not the only time music and trees connected with one another at the festival.

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I love the message on the back of this t-shirt!

This shirt made me wonder if at least some music fans also have a deeper appreciation for nature because we know what goes into making the instruments sound so beautiful and what we lose when whole species of trees die out.

Take the violin for instance. Each violin likely consists of wood from at least eight different trees (among them spruce, maple, poplar, spruce, willow, ebony, rosewood, boxwood, mahogany). The pernambuco tree once made up most Western violin bows, but now, because the tree is endangered, violin makers are searching for other woods and synthetic options to make great bows.

Even the rosin that enables the bow to draw sound from the violin’s strings comes from tree sap.

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The scroll, pegs and neck of my violin — all made of wood

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I’m partial to my own violin, I know, but I think its back is simply beautiful.

Without trees and the gifts they provide, what would become of the violins, mandolins, guitars, banjos, cellos, dobros and basses that make such beautiful music?

Nature has its own wonderful music, but I’m grateful for the music it enables humans to create, too. Today’s weather may not be serene and calm where you are (it’s getting ready to storm again where I am), but the next time you find yourself outside on a peaceful day, I hope you’ll think of the message from another t-shirt I found at the festival:

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Nature and music inextricably linked

Will you listen? And will you make the trees sing?

The promise of spring

“Ha!” I can hear many of you saying as you sit blanketed under snow today. Or is it a “Bah!” that you’re calling out to my promising the return of spring.

Spring seems an unreal probability in this wintry season. Even here in the south, we got a little sneeze of snow last night. Not enough to cover the world with its cleansing white cover, but enough to get the local kids excited about a school delay and enough to glue the little kid still inside me to the windows as the snow drifted down last night. I dream of a proper snow day while many of you are ready for it to just. go. away. already.

I will admit to wishing for warmer weather. too. This has been an unusually cold winter, and if it’s going to be this cold, I’d prefer snow to accompany it. While I’m busy wishing for more snow or warmer weather or both – after all, it could be warmer here and still snow, too – I thought I’d share some photos from my recent visit to San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden with you.

Some of the trees in the gardens are bare, but there are cherry blossoms, too. And nothing promises spring to me as much as a cherry blossom. So enjoy these photos and a cup of something warm. I promise: spring is on its way, but for some of us, it can’t get here soon enough.

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Nothing promises spring to me like a cherry blossom

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Someone is having fun training these shrubs (trees?) to grow like this.

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The koi and the trees’ reflections mesmerized me in equal measure.

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More reflections, thanks to a clear, still day

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I love the shape of this gnarled tree and am thankful for winter’s opportunity to see the flinging shape of its branches.

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A garden of dwarf trees, while a pagoda looms over the garden

A quick note about this garden of dwarf trees. Sometimes even trees get caught up in wars, and these dwarf trees are no exception. The Hagiwara family that cared for this garden from 1895 to 1942 was, according to the plaque nearby, “forced to relocate” during World War II. I guess that’s the genteel way of describing the internment of Japanese Americans during that war. The Hagiwara family left these trees in the care of a landscape architect Samuel Newson, who later sold the collection to Hugh Fraser. Fraser’s wife gave the collection back to the tea garden in her will, and they’ve been back here – flourishing – for almost 50 years.

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One last picture of these hopeful koi (I didn’t feed them, but they hoped nonetheless.)

What are the signals or promises that you look for to prove that spring will return?