Shade Trees

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Since summer is waning and since most of us live in air conditioned houses and ride in air conditioned cars and work in air conditioned buildings, shade trees probably don’t have much significance to us, but for those of you, like me, who grew up in rural America, shade trees were a welcome site on a hot, summer day. Even, now, in sunny, Southern California, when I’m out walking and need a rest, I’ll stop under any tree on my path.

And on that note, that takes me back to the country of my childhood. When I was growing up, country people walked a lot … and I do mean, a lot. Though many families had cars, they still walked to neighbor’s houses or to the field to work or just romping around in the woods, or just walking for fun and recreation.

In the summertime, which is ideal for walking, we made good use of those hot days to get out of the house. And this is where shade trees come in. Many times, Mother would send us to a neighbor’s house for whatever. And I must explain that a country neighbor could live about five miles away and still be a neighbor.

When we arrived at neighbor’s house, they would usually invite us to sit under the shade tree or on the porch. At our house, we had a hickory nut tree, an oak tree and a black walnut tree, so whenever we got tired of sitting in the house, we’d camp out under one of our big, tall, gigantic, green, natural canopies.

When we had to walk to Mrs. Whoever’s house, usually, we’d go through the woods. If we walked along the main, dusty, unpaved road, there weren’t a lot of trees. This may be true because tees could have been axed for the road to come through. But at any rate, every once in a while, we’d come to a tall, shade tree. If we were good and tired, that was our opportunity to hang out under the sprawling arms of the largest tree we could find. Trees along the road aren’t that plentiful but they do exist.

Whenever we picked cotton, it was usually on a cloudless, too warm summer or autumn day and trees in cotton fields are another story. Those fields are almost always bare, because cotton has to have room to grow, and trees hinder their growth. So there’s nothing much but cotton and their tall, green stalks in cotton fields.

Picking cotton on a hot Arkansas day is not the most comfortable form of labor. At lunch time or at the end of a long, hard row, it’s so refreshing to retreat to the periphery of the field and hug a huge tree trunk, then with a long sigh of relief plop down under its outstretched wings. While we didn’t worship trees, our tired souls still may have whispered to the stately, sheltering tree under which we took refuge, “Boy am I thankful that the axe spared you, and thanks for just being here for me.”

Now, I have to explain this about trees. While you may find a few of them in town, they are natural to the country. And about the only trees that were ever cut down were pine timber. Other than that, country folks let their trees stay. I think that is a good idea, because back then, no one carried an umbrella (the way I do today) to shield themselves from the hot sun. And seldom did we wear hats. A head covering was a luxury. So with the sun shining down on our bare heads, whenever we saw a tree, we made a bee-line to it.

While we didn’t revere trees the way I understand that ancient people did, we have some reverence and respect for them. They are a part of the outlying landscapes and factor into rural peoples’ lives. No doubt, you would have to live in the country in order to appreciate the beauty and comfort that trees add to our lives. I can grasp the horror when Americans read that one of our presidents chopped down a tree…He did what? How dare him do such a dastardly thing?” they might surmise. Having been born and reared in the countryside, I know the value of a tree…any tree, and that’s why I thank God for trees.

take a rest under the shade tree | Fotolia/Elenathewise