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When I was very young, I memorized “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer. It begins:

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

and ends:

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree

On our small farm in Pennsylvania, we had many trees; among them were giant oaks near our barn and spring. Lightning had not been kind to them, and many limbs were missing. However, they were stately and somewhat assuring during storms and their shade was refreshing. Other trees on our farm included sugar maple, aspen, birch, hemlock, and ash.

Records show that about 134 native tree species grow across Pennsylvania. The ash trees have suffered blight and bugs and are in decline, much like the once mighty chestnut tree. Its demise was caused by something called ink disease and its final blow occurred at the turn of the 20th century from chestnut blight. The dead upright corpse of a once mighty chestnut tree was evident in our small forest grove. We also had a small stand of hemlock which we later milled and several sugar maples that we tapped each spring to make syrup.

As children, we ate the nuts from hickory, walnut, and butternut trees. Some of the trees grew along our road, so we would sit by the side of the road, find a rock, and break open the shell for our meat, even if it was slim pickings from the hickory nuts.

When we visited Waco and then moved here, the dominant and most impressive trees to me were the Texas Live Oak varieties. They are very drought and cold-tolerant and the one in our front yard supplies our driveway with a supply of acorns each year.

The Kewa people, with whom we lived for many years in Papua New Guinea were very aware of their trees. Two men supplied me with the names and information on 148 separate species. They described the features that separated one kind from another, such as their size, bark (rough, smooth, etc.), leaves (size, color, veins, etc.), colors (brown, green, reddish, yellow, etc.), strength, and functions. For example, here is a short description of the eya tree: “The eya is a very strong tree. It is one we use for building houses and constructing fences. Its bark is rough, but we think well of this tree because of its many uses.”

Once, when in NZ and staying with friends, they took us to a famous preserved Kauri Forest on the North Island. I bought a book called “Kauri: a king among kings” by J.G. Erne Adams (revised edition, 1986). Although I had looked at the pictures and read parts of it, I had never read the whole book carefully, so I have returned to it.

The book got me thinking of great trees. I looked online and found that these are the most famous:

1) The Ashbrittle Yew, in Somerset County, England, and estimated to be 3,000-4,000 years old.

2) The General Sherman, in California’s Sequoia National Park, estimated to be about 2,000 years old.

3) The Tree of Tenere, in Niger’s Sahara desert.

4) The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Sri Lanka, a sacred tree.

5) The Major Oak in the heart of Sherwood Forest of Nottinghamshire, England, and believed to be where Robin Hood took shelter.

The Sequoias are the largest trees in the world and there are about 30 famous ones, all with names, such as Sherman, Grant, Lincoln, Stagg, and Boole. “In eastern California, a Great Basin bristlecone pine known as Methuselah has long been considered Earth's oldest living thing. According to tree-ring data, it is 4,853 years old.”

I wondered about the Cedars of Lebanon. "The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted." (Psalm 104:16 NRSV) “[King Solomon made] cedar as plentiful as the sycamore-fig trees in the foothills.” (1 Kings 10:27, NIV, excerpt) “The cedar wood that was used to prepare the water of separation and to purify leprosy (Leviticus 14:4-7, Leviticus 14:49-52) is illustrative of powerful nations (Ezekiel 31:3, Amos 2:9), the flourishing of saints (Psalm 92:12) and the majesty, strength, and glory of Christ (Song of Solomon 5:15, Ezekiel 17:22-23).”

And what about the fig trees of the Bible? “The sycomore fig, Ficus sycomorus, is a large tree with a thick trunk and leathery leaves. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector at Jericho who climbed a sycamore tree to have a better look at Jesus. Jesus himself declared that the kingdom of heaven is like a tree (Matthew 13:31–32). “The only thing that Jesus ever harmed was a tree (Mark 11:12–14, 20–21), and the only thing that could kill him was a tree.”

Consider how trees represent life and growth in legends and mythologies and represent wisdom, power, and prosperity. The Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden depicts this.

Jesus cursed a fig tree, and it died; he was hung on a tree (the cross), and he died. The fig tree was an object lesson for the disciples; the cross as a tree is symbolic of where Jesus hung and died for our sins.

Karl Franklin


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