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  • Betty Girardeau

The Winter Tree


Yesterday was just about as gloomy and foggy as a winter day can be. I had to make a long drive to a signing north of Knoxville. This was an area of the state in which I had never gone, not too far from Norris Dam, which was the very first of the TVA dams in Tennessee, and also not far from the Cumberland Gap. It is a beautiful area of rocky outcroppings, rolling farm land, and forests full of American beech trees. We had a couple of these trees in the woods around our house in Virginia. They are not particularly noticeable during most of the rest of the year, but they really stand out during the winter. Like some oak trees, they don't shed their leaves until the spring when the new ones start to grow. They don't grow to great heights like the oaks. So their wide spreading golden leaves bring a much-needed look of warmth and beauty during the winter months to the otherwise grey and stark woodlands. In fact, grow extremely slowly, sometimes taking as much as ten years just to attain the height of two feet. When they are large enough to be cut down and used by man, the wood has been found to be durable under water and makes great handles for tools, and is used for shipping containers. Game animals forage for the nuts, which have also been used to fatten chickens. The oil derived from the nut is edible for humans, though eaten in large quantities the nuts themselves can be toxic. These trees are native to eastern North America, so people moving from the west often are unfamiliar with them, as I also discovered yesterday when someone on our neighborhood website posted a picture of these trees and asked what they were. Today's picture is a close-up of the leaves on an American beech tree in my North Carolina son's yard. This tree has not yet become wide spreading, but its leaves still make it a standout among the overriding grey of its surroundings. I think of them as winter trees because of the beauty of these golden leaves when all else seems so bleak and gloomy. The person who asked to have this tree identified for them has fallen in love with them, too, and said that she now wanted to plant one in her yard. I don't blame her, but I think they show off best when they are in the midst of the woods.

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