Tree Time

After reluctantly crawling out of bed Sunday morning, I looked out the second story window to the backyard and noticed that our walnut tree is nearly nude. It was a sudden and startling reminder to me that summer is just about gone now. The walnut tree is always the first tree in our yard to lose all of its leaves. In just a few weeks, it will be time to rake up approximately three zillion dry, dead leaves from the backyard and drag them on tarps to the front curb for the city to incinerate. However, I forbid the leaves to die quite yet because that doesn’t fit in with my particular curriculum plans at this moment. 🙂

The walnut tree when it still had leaves and walnuts back in August.

The walnut tree when it still had leaves and walnuts back in August.

Over the summer I had this grand idea that we would take the time this school year to explore and learn to identify as many trees as we could. We would read about trees, take photographs, collect leaves and other tree detritus for preserving, do some “leafy” craft projects, and discuss how wonderfully awesome trees are. I checked out some cool tree books from the library. I bought a brand new binder to use to hold the pages for our “tree” journal. I searched the web for tree-related recipes and craft projects. I had everything all planned out before the school year had even started.

Despite all my previous planning, we only made it out and about, tree identification book and cameras in hand, a handful of times. We did manage to photograph a few trees, but in a few cases, identifying which trees were which using the book proved a little more difficult than I had originally thought it would be. I still can’t figure out what the heck the little tree on our tree lawn is. If it’s actually in my Trees of Ohio: Field Guide, it’s doing a good job of hiding from me.

I can't find a single tree in our Trees of Ohio book that has leaves this color.

I can't find a single tree in our Trees of Ohio book that has leaves this color.

Even though we failed to name every tree we came across on our little walks around the neighborhood, I was not ready to give up quite yet and let autumn get on with its business. Sunday before I had work, we headed to the university to look around for some more trees to identify. The university is a great place to look for trees because there are so many different tree types all over campus. I knew for sure that there were both oak and buckeye trees, so at the very least, we could successfully study and identify those ones. It’s hard to mistake a buckeye tree for anything else.

Tobin checking out a buckeye with Dad.

Tobin checking out a buckeye with Dad.

One, two, three, four, five leaves from a buckeye tree...

One, two, three, four, five leaves from a buckeye tree...

I told Ken and the kids that our first goal for our tree study was to identify 10 different tree types before the snow starts flying. Between the few trees we could identify back from our own backyard, our walks in August, and the ones we looked at on the university’s campus, we should be able to meet our goal. Next spring when the trees start budding again, I am hoping we’ll be able to add some more to our list.

Here are a few of the trees we’ve photographed for our tree journal:

Some kind of pine tree.   We weren't quite able to narrow it down more than that.

Some kind of pine tree. We weren't quite able to narrow it down more than that.

A bald cypress

A bald cypress

a yellow buckeye tree

a yellow buckeye tree

a spruce tree...I think it's a white spruce

A spruce tree...I think it's a white spruce.

Ken says this one's a crab apple.

Ken says this one's a crab apple.

An oak, not sure which type yet though...

An oak, not sure which type yet though...

Tobin had the most fun looking at the acorns and the buckeyes. On Monday he kept telling me about how many buckeyes he “captured” the day before.

acorn

acorn

Tobin holding one of the buckeyes he captured.  It put up quite a fight.

Tobin holding one of the buckeyes he captured. It put up quite a fight.

Steve kept trying to eat the crab apples but was also impressed by the buckeyes. The ones we found were from a yellow buckeye tree. Buckeyes from an Ohio buckeye tree are supposed to have a spiny outer shell instead of a smooth one. If anyone happens to know where an Ohio buckeye tree can be found, drop us a line and let us know where so we can check one out.

Trees

A tree from our yard

I managed to make it through my childhood believing that there are only 3 kinds of trees:  oak, maple, and Christmas.  (I can’t even blame this on a public school education.)  Oak trees are, of course, the ones that drop acorns all over the yard which squirrels the size of cats then scurry around to hide for the winter.  Maple trees are the ones with those leaves that look like the leaf on the Canadian flag; they are also the ones we somehow get maple syrup from…magically.  Christmas trees, also known as pine trees, are the ones that don’t have leaves that turn red and orange in the fall.  Rather than providing food for squirrels or providing an accompaniment to pancakes like other trees, pine trees supply a place to hang tinsel and Christmas lights; they drop pinecones everywhere which people gather for craft projects that they intend to complete, but probably don’t.

Obviously, I exaggerate a bit, but truly, my sum total knowledge regarding trees could fit in, well, an acorn cap.   Despite growing up in the big city, or maybe even because I did, I have always wished that I knew more about these mysterious things called trees.

I enjoy hiking through the MetroParks with my family.  I like listening for birds, looking for frogs in a pond, spying on chipmunks, avoiding dog poop left on the path by dogs with inconsiderate owners, etc.  (In actuality, I don’t  enjoy that last one.  Hehe.)  One day on a hike I would really like to be able to point out a particular tree to my children and say, “Hey, that is an “insert-tree-name-here” with some kind of authority.   I would like to be able to know something cool about the various trees we encounter when we are out.  I want my boys to know, understand, and appreciate the natural world around them and their place in that world.

Not that you absolutely need to know the proper names of things in order to appreciate them.  After all, so said Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But it is my hope that if I can teach my children to actually take the time to stop and look up, that they will do so with purpose.  Hopefully that purpose is to learn everything they can about nature so they can properly show nature the respect it deserves.

Besides…all that knowledge is obviously going to help my boys impress the ladies some day, right?