February 2011 Archives

what the rain revealed

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It snowed again here. And then it rained. I stuck my head out the window during a momentary pause in the rain today to get a close look at my tree. I was surprised to find that the rain has brought out some of the different features of the branches. The moisture has darkened the bark and I can see more details on it than I could when the tree was dry. I noticed one thing in particular.


Little white dots on the bark of my twig. I had actually been looking for these for a while. They were sort of one missing bit of information that I felt I needed to identify my tree confidently. Having found them, I'm going to go out on a limb (sorry!) and declare that my tree is an ash tree. Apparently ash trees also have these smiley face bumps under the buds. I can see these more clearly on my branch today as well. I have a smiley ash tree. Grin.

PS - I love this photo because I can see my twig so well, including all of its fabulous little reddish brown buds, but also I can see the main shape of my tree in the background. It has two arms that reach out horizontally and then two that go up. My twig lives on a branch off of the long horizontal limb on the left.

the mystery of the sticky burrs

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I search my tree every morning for more sticky burrs. So far I've found about 10, but all of them are too far away from my window to really get a good look at. I took a few moments the other day to draw a few that I could see the closest. They seem to come in three different varieties: on the tip of a twig, on the side of a twig, and on a stem on the side of a twig.


Here are the best photos I could get of the sticky burrs on my tree. This one is on the tip of a twig.


The one is on the side.


These have tiny little stems.


And these seem to be growing between two branches.


Overall, these sticky burrs remain a mystery. What's frustrating me is that I don't really see the ones on my tree developing into anything. And I haven't discovered any new ones in a while. So I'm wondering if these maybe aren't quite what I thought they were. Is it possible that these are just leftovers from last fall? Perhaps they're not the beginning of anything, but the end. They could be withered leaves. Which might explain why some of them have stems. And why they are all brown and dry looking.  (Because I would expect new, spring leaves to be green.) Hmmmm...

I wish something else would happen to give me a clue!

the boy who drew birds

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Story time, everyone!

Today, we have a gorgeous book, which, although not strictly about trees, definitely invites one to take a closer look at (or in) them. The Boy Who Drew Birds is a story about John James Audubon written by Jacqueline Davies and stunningly illustrated by Melissa Sweet and is a joy.


(On a side note: Jacqueline Davies is from a neighboring town and recently came to speak at my boys' school. All the third and fourth graders read her book The Lemonade War for a school-wide book group. She spoke about writing that book - and its upcoming sequel - and signed some books for us.) 

We first see John James as a young man with his father in the lush green French countryside. And we learn that what John James most loved to do was watch birds.


Next we see him in the white, snowy Pennsylvania woods. We learn that he was sent to America to learn commerce and to avoid fighting in Napoleon's war.


But what John James mostly does is watch the pewee birds and wonder if the birds he would see with the coming of the spring would be the same ones who had built the nests the previous year.


As he wonders about the birds, we watch the seasons pass, marked on one page by four simple little drawings of a single tree changing. These pictures, like the ones above, really show how much we understand the seasons through trees.


John James comes up with the novel idea to band a baby Phoebe bird with some silver thread to try to identify it if it returns the next year. He waits for the beginnings of spring and return of the birds.


When the birds arrive, he is delighted to discover that the birds he'd watched and studied and drawn in his little cave were indeed the same ones who returned to the cave the following year. And the baby bird he'd marked with the silver thread had established its own nest nearby. I love how Davies frames Audubon's question about the birds as the wonderings of a young boy far from his home, unsure if he'll ever return.

Davies also writes about Audubon's drawings, emphasizing how he studied and came to know his subjects by drawing and painting them. After having to do a few drawings of my own for science class, it's nice to see how effective this very direct and observational approach can be.


And it turns out he might not have liked his drawings much more than I like mine. That's reassuring too.

In the spirit of John James, the education section of the Audubon society's website contains tips on incorporating nature into family time. The Audubon society aims to help kids battle what some are calling a developing nature deficit disorder. For example, they sponsor an annual backyard bird count, an example of citizen science that collects info from volunteers everywhere, who watch for birds over a four-day period and provide a snapshot of bird life in the country. The website also contains tips for teachers for bringing nature into the classroom and teaching outdoors.


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With the help of my husband, I've figured out how to take some really close-up pictures of the buds on my tree and they look much more complex than I had perceived before. What appeared to be one simple bud on the tip of a branch now reveals itself to be made up of several different parts.There's a sort of center bud and two darker-colored, um, let's call 'em wings, on either side. Each bud seems to have this structure. Did these wings used to cover the whole inner bud? Are they pulling away from it? Or are they growing alongside it? Or were they always there and I just hadn't been able to identify them before now?


What amazes me is how this whole bud system seems to arrange itself in threes. I've already noticed that the branches coming off the twigs come out in pairs - that is to say, there'll be the center branch of the twig and then two branches coming off of it in opposite directions. Like this: \ I / . Three. Furthermore, the tip of each twig has a center bud and then a bud on either side of it - 3 buds. And now I see that each bud itself is made of 3 little parts, the inner bud and the two wings. Three. It's a magic number. Is that the key to understanding this tree?

Coincidentally, the buds on my tree seem to be in three different stages. I took a few minutes to draw them.


Some of the buds on the tips of the twigs of my tree still look like one single pointy bud (#1 above), but most of the ones I can see near my window look like #2. I'm assuming they're opening. Bud # 3 is the only one of its kind I can see on the tree and it is amazing! From my window it looks like a bud that is either cracking open or being pushed to the side and has something resembling the sticky burr texture inside or behind it. But with the camera, it is even more intriguing.


And the super, mega, ultra close-up is insane.


OMG, What is that stuff in the middle?! Is that the sticky burr thing uncurling? Is that growing from the inside of the bud? And what is that long thing on the side of it? A leaf? Some part of the twig? Did it come from the bud or was it already there?

Wow. And I thought they were just buds.

who are you? who, who, who, who?

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I've been curious about what sort of tree my tree is. I don't have any idea how to identify trees, except that acorns fall from oaks and chestnuts from chestnuts. But I don't remember ever finding any acorns or chestnuts under my tree, so I'm going to need some help.

Most sites I've found help you identify trees according to their leaves, like this one at the Arborday.org website, this one from Virginia Tech, and this site from the Ohio Public Library, which looks really fun.


But what if your tree looks like this?


Can you tell anything from a trunk and some twigs? Turns out you can. There's bark texture and color and branching patterns and bud shapes and sizes. Check out how to use these markers to identify trees and this guide to identifying winter trees. This Illinois website also has many helpful pictures of branches and seeds and twigs.

With the help of these sites, I think I may now know what kind of tree I have. Here are some clues taken from things I've noticed about my tree in the last two weeks. 1) The bark of my tree is brown with white and mossy green patches. 2) The bark of my tree has deep ridges. 3) The twigs on my tree seem to come out of the branches symmetrically, with two coming out in opposite directions from the same area. 4) The buds are small, round and orangey-brown.


Who am I?

when the bough breaks

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The other day, I noticed that the top branch of my tree was broken. I speculated that it might have broken off in one of our January snowstorms and that there might be some broken branches beneath the snow surrounding my tree. After two days of well above average temperatures, a good deal of snow melted (there's now only about a foot surrounding the tree), and, indeed, a small group of branches has been revealed. Given their location in the snow, I'd say they broke off during one of the last couple of snowstorms that dumped feet of wet, heavy snow on top of earlier frozen snow.


Since this is the city, the nearest tree is many meters away in another cutout on the other side of a driveway. Therefore, I feel confident that these branches did belong to my tree. Furthermore, the largest branch in this pile looks similar in diameter to the branch at the very top of my tree and has the same sort of break on it. I'm guessing that this is the exact bit that broke off up top.

I snapped off one small twig to get a closer look. It's covered with little buds just like the twig I can see out of my window. And look, the buds seem to have little shells that they are coming out of. Or something. They're not just solid bumps on the side of the twig. These, at least, were already developing into something more complex. They're also soft. When I press on them, it's like pushing on the eraser tip of a pencil. I wonder how close these were to starting to "pop"?  


It's a little sad that this twig, ready and waiting to sprout new leaves, has been separated from the tree. But its loss is my gain. I snatched up the little guy to bring inside for further investigation. 


The twig is covered in these dark semi-circular bumps that look like they were the base or shelf under an old bud. At the top of each bud shelf there's what looks like a cut, maybe where the leaf was connected and fell off?  The twig also has several segments, separated by what look like knuckles. Perhaps these are from growth each year.  Each year, the twig grows longer at the wrinkly, knuckly part?

What a lucky find for me!

at rest and in motion

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One thing I noticed when I tried to take a picture of my twig last week was that my tree never stops moving. It's so strange because when I think of plant life (versus animal life), I think of something that doesn't move. By definition. But just watch my tree for a minute.

It wasn't even a particularly windy day when I took this video. How can it withstand all that movement? All the time. Day and night. What makes wood so flexible and yet so strong?

Also, isn't this tree officially dormant right now? Because it is winter and all. Don't they sort of slow down like bears do in winter? Just how long does dormancy last? Is there really no change at all in the tree while it's dormant? I mean, if we look at those buds, were they there before the tree became dormant? Or do they develop during dormancy? Or does their development mean the tree is waking up?

Are there more things happening in that tree than the few very visible signs we see?

be a friend to trees

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Let's all get in a circle on the rug - it's Saturday story time! Today we're reading Be a Friend to Trees.


My 3 1/2 year-old daughter loves this non-fiction book about trees. She picked out some of her favorite pages to share with everyone today.


Trees are nice. Yes, they are. So is this little book.


My daughter loves all the animals in the book. Some live in the trees. Some get their food from the trees. And there's elephants, giraffes and porcupines - some of my daughter's favorites.


We depend on trees too.


P - H - O - T - O - S - Y - N - T - H - E - S - I - S
. My daughter asks, "What's that big word again?" "What are these arrows again?"


Trees are more than nice. In fact, we can't live without them. So the book ends with some specific ways kids can be friends to trees, like using reusable grocery bags and recycling.


And, of course, planting more trees. Very nice.

it's a popcorn tree

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I've been stuck thinking about that one tree I saw on my Valentine's Day walk with all the sticky burrs.


What struck me besides the fact that the tree was crazy looking with all those prickly balls on it, was that it looked so much like my tree, just covered with sticky burrs. The bark was very similar and the branches seemed to grow the same way as well. But my tree didn't have any of those, uh, things on it. Or did it? After a day of thinking about it, I wasn't so sure, so I decided to really search my tree.  And sure enough...


I found two!


OMG, are more on the way? Is it going to be filled with those things like the other tree?

Now, I was so curious about the sticky burrs and what they might be, I started looking for some hanging low down on another tree somewhere where I could get a better look at them. The other day, I hit the jackpot.


Turns out that up close, they look just like sticky burrs. But then there's this little leaf popping out of them. Could this be how the buds open up? Are they like popcorn kernels that just burst open all at once? I kind of thought that buds would unfold all lovelyly like a flower opens. This does not look like it does that. (Note: This tiny twiglet is only about three inches long and each of the little popcorn buds is about a centimeter big.)

So I run upstairs to tell my husband that I think I've discovered something about my tree. I tell him about the sticky burrs and that I think my tree will soon be covered in these popcorn buds. He thinks for a while and then says "oh yeah, it does that."

That. Is. So. Cool.

In the three days since I took these pictures of the first popcorn buds on my trees, I've found six more. They're small and hard to find, but I swear there's a new one every day! It's been really sunny recently. Lots of light. And we had a little warm spell on Valentine's. I wonder if that's why my tree is getting started with its popcorn buds now.

But why was the other tree already covered in them when my tree only had two? (Not that I'm jealous or anything.) Why does one tree get ahead of another? It's across the street. Does it get more light? Is it not about the light? Maybe there's better soil in the sidewalk cutout over there. Maybe it's older? Younger? Maybe every tree is just a little different like kids learning to walk or talk.

I'm so excited that something's happening!

logo tree

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My husband has been listening to me talk about trees for over a week now. And he still reads this little blog. Aw. After reading one of my posts about drawing my tree earlier this week, he drew his own tree.


He drew this tree using a computer programming language called Logo, which was developed in the 80's for teaching computer science in a constructivist framewok. (For more on the history of Logo, check out the Logo Foundation website.) Hubby explains how he drew his tree: Logo has a screen on which sits a "turtle." The turtle has a pen attached to its tail and understands commands like "walk forward," "walk backward," "turn left," and "turn right."


That's all you need to draw a tree. Here's his program:

to tree :size
if :size >= 5 [
 forward :size
 left 60
 tree :size / 2
 right 60
 tree :size / 2
 right 60
 tree :size / 2
 left 60
 back :size]

Which means:

if the current size is greater or equal than 5 then do the following:
o draw a line of length size in the current direction
o turn left by 60 degrees
o draw a tree of half the current size
o turn right by 60 degrees
o draw a tree of half the current size
o turn right by 60 degrees
o draw a tree of half the current size
o turn left by 60 degrees
o draw a line of length size backward

Different trees can be made by varying the minimum size (here 5), the rotation angle and the proportion of the child trees to their parents.

Apparently, it's a simple exercise in recursion, which involves the repetition of the same form or function. Hubby says he started thinking about the Logo tree when he read this passage in my post from Monday about the groups of smaller branches that seemed to pop out of the main branches all around the same spot: "And in fact, they are very reminiscent of the original four limbs all bursting out of the main trunk at around the same height. I can see this same pattern repeated in some of the smaller branches too." He explained, that's what makes drawing a tree so simple with this program: the tree is just a bunch of smaller versions of itself (each made up of even smaller versions, etc.) attached to each other.


a walk among the trees

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Yesterday was such an unexpectedly lovely day in the middle of this frigid, snow-overfilled winter that I decided to take a quick walk around the block to look at the trees.

The first tree I always see is the one that is in front of our door. This is not the tree I am watching for this investigation. That one is on the side of the house. This tree is a smaller, sadder sort of half-tree. You can see the part that is missing in the picture. That part was there for years, but it was always dead. It never grew any leaves or anything. The town's Department of Public Works cut that part off last year in what seemed to be a big tree pruning, removing, replanting effort.


I like to think of this tree as Bud. He's like that little boy that Rudy in the Cosby Show brought home and ordered around. I don't know his real name and, despite the fact that he's always there, I don't really pay attention to him. Buuuuud. I had actually decided to have Bud be "my tree" for this study, but my husband pointed out that I could see the tree on the side of our house much more clearly and it was just "a better tree." I agreed, although I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what exactly makes that tree "a better tree" because I kinda like Bud. Since I'd started thinking of Bud as "my tree", we bonded. You'll definitely see more pictures of Bud and the changes he's going through as this blog continues.

On my walk, I noticed that Bud is not the same kind of tree as my tree (which, due to it's prouder and prettier appearance, I am tempted to call Rudy). Bud has little pointy reddish buds at the tips of his branches and a lot fewer of them. His bark too, while bumpy and cracked, is still much smoother than that of my tree.

On to the next street, which was another place the Department of Public Works was hard at work on last year.


I always loved this street because there were giant trees lining it on both sides. In the fall there was a canopy of beautiful leaves above and scattered below. (My appreciation was certainly affected by the fact that I don't live on this street and never had to gather any of the leaves!) But - yes, as you can tell from the photo, there is a but - the sidewalks had developed serious cracks from all the roots. Some of the cracks extended up into people's cement steps up to their houses. It was tricky pushing a stroller or a shopping cart over the sidewalks here and treacherous in the snow and ice. I'm not sure if there was anything else wrong with the trees, but one day, the DPW just showed up and cut all of them down on one side. Then they started redoing the sidewalks and steps. Then they planted the darling little baby trees in the new cutouts.

I was crushed to see half the trees go. The whole street looks uneven now and autumn is just not the same without them. I also can't stop thinking about the people who live on that side of the street. What is it like now that they have so much more light? Do they have to rearrange their furniture? Get new curtains? How about their feeling of privacy? Security? Imagine, twenty, thirty years, your whole life in a house maybe, and then no more tree.

I took a closer look at one of the older trees on the street. This one has leafy reddish buds that look almost sculptural or decorative.


And here's one like I saw in science class with branches that look like alien hands with long, skinny fingers and a white, round bud at the end of each. Beautiful and creepy at the same time.


Hey, look at the way the trunk grew on this tree. What could possibly make it do that?


And this one is covered with red berries. Wow. In February!


This one is covered with little whiskers.


And this one is covered in what look like sticky burrs.


This one still has its dead brown leaves. How is that even possible?


Coooooool bark, dude.


These here are like completely black.


But none of them is my tree.


Except this one directly across the street, which looks just like it. They're like little tree soul mates. On Valentine's day. Aw.

top and bottom

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Today I went up to the boys' room upstairs to get a different look at my tree. I can see the very top of the tree here and can look down and get a good sense of how many major limbs there really are. In order to capture this, I decided to draw another picture.


I noticed A LOT of new things about my tree. First, I noted that there were four major limbs coming off of the trunk. One of them has split into two similarly wide limbs a few feet up. The next set of branches go off in all sorts of directions. Some have grown downwards, some horizontally, some started growing up and then curved down. What was really interesting, though, was how there would be a stretch of branch with no smaller branches coming off of it and then, bam!, it's like an explosion of new branches all growing out from about the same area. I tried to capture a few of these in my drawing. They looked like the streaks that fireworks leave in the sky, all bursting from the same spot. And, in fact, they are very reminiscent of the original four limbs all bursting out of the main trunk at around the same height. I can see this same pattern repeated in some of the smaller branches too. Fascinating.

Also fascinating was the fact that all of the next set of thinner branches (the ones that are covered with buds) all reach up towards the sky. Even though the branches they have grown off of may be horizontal or even hanging down, their little branches curve back up toward the sky. Neato. Is this to get the leaves up to the sun? How is it then that the larger branches and limbs don't also reach up to the sky? Weren't they the little branches at one point? Did they change direction as they got bigger?

Up here I could also see that the branch that is at the tallest point of the tree has broken, probably either from the strong winds or heavy snow we've had this winter. It looks like something large broke off, a whole branch with smaller branches perhaps. Maybe we'll find it buried under the snow beneath the tree someday. Near that big break, there is a smaller branch that has been ripped off the main branch but is still hanging on. I'm curious to see how this branch develops in the spring. Will a broken branch grow the same way the others do? Will the cut heal itself?

When walking by my tree later in the day, I noticed - I'll admit it, for the first time! - a set of small, thin, smooth, obviously young branches growing out of the main trunk much lower than the main limbs. I'd estimate that the main limbs branch off around 11 or 12 feet up, but these new branches just pop out of the trunk at about 7 feet up. They're so weird!


It's like they were just stuck on there, like funny antlers. There is nothing else growing around them. Big question of the day: Why on earth would these start growing here?

a closer look

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Okay, let's just get this out in the open. I'm not good at drawing. When my three year-old daughter comes to me and asks me to draw a dog or a lion or something, I honestly tell her that her drawing of it will be much better than mine. Her pictures seem much more meaningful. She draws what she's understood about the thing. Maybe that's just the face of a person, so she draws a giant face and adds a few stick legs and arms. (The Germans have a name for this that I love: Kopffüssler, or Headfooted). When I draw, I have no idea where to start. In some ways, I know way too much about dogs to ever draw a picture of one that is meaningful. In other ways, I know way too little. When was the last time I really looked closely at a dog?

For my investigation of my tree, I am supposed to do some drawing. The idea of these science drawings is to take a closer look, to "see" more. Our science textbook suggests that the primary benefit of drawing in science class is "simply that it takes time. It keeps children in the company of an object long enough for them to become familiar with it."[1] The point of this journal is for me to practice the type of science I'd like to teach, therefore, I'm going to draw. Like my daughter does. What do I see? What makes sense to me? I am encouraged by these words: "Freed from the imagined burden of having to create aesthetically pleasing pictures...focus on the subject at hand and learn about it through drawing."[2]

Alright. Here's a sketch of a small section of my tree, as viewed from our living room window.


There's really a lot going on in just this tiny bit that I drew. The bark on the trunk and the large horizontal branch is really rough and mossy looking. It looks like it's full of cracks like paint peeling. The long ridges in the bark run along the length of the branch like poorly built parallel streets, rarely straight, but rarely crossing or meeting.

As a part of my tree-watching assignment, I am supposed to pick one specific twig on my tree and watch it particularly in order to get a close up look at the changes that are happening. Sometimes you can't see the twig for the trees, you know! In order to get to know my twig well, I chose to draw it. It extends towards me off the branch I've drawn above at the point I've labeled with a teeny tiny asterisk.


One thing I noticed while drawing this was just how symmetrical the little branches are on this twig. I couldn't get the perspective right, but there'll be a pair coming out on either side from about the same point and then the next pair will be coming out opposite from each other and usually 90 degrees offset from the first pair. I wonder what causes branches to grow like that. Our textbook suggests that through drawing, "children begin to realize what they know and what they don't know."[3] I don't know why branches grow the way they do. Is it totally random? I did notice that most of the tips of each tiny branch of my twig seem to have three buds - one at the very tip and one on either side. This seems like it could be the reason for the symmetrical branching. The center bud continues the main center branch and the two on the sides become the two new branches going off in opposing directions. So what happened where there aren't two opposing branches? Was there no bud there for some reason? Why are there some branches with just one or two buds at the tip? Did something happen to the second or third buds there? Did they start growing and then break off?

Now, in case my drawings haven't been quite as meaningful to you as they were to me (my textbook comforts me here a little too: "the sloppy or incomplete appearance of a particular science drawing may belie the role that creating it played in helping [one] to learn"[4]), here's my twig in multicolored megapixels for you.


The photo really captures the different color of this branch from the main one. It is also amazingly smooth. I am guessing that it's because this branch is newer and younger. As you move away from the main branches, the smaller branches get smoother and lighter in color. Will they look like the larger branch there in ten years?

(You might notice that I'm highlighting my questions as I'm writing about my tree. I might want to come back to them, so I thought it would be helpful to make them easier to find in a post.)

[1] Doris, E. (2010). Doing What Scientists Do. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. p. 113
[2] Doris, p. 128.
[3] Doris, p. 113.
[4] Doris, p. 128.

this tree counts

Go ahead, sit yourself down - criss-cross applesauce - because it's storytime!


Today we're reading This Tree Counts! by Alison Formento. A school class goes to the field to plant some trees, friends for the one oak tree that lives behind the school. Before they start planting, their teacher says they should first listen to the tree.


The tree tells them that one owl lives in its branches. And two spiders. Three squirrels. And so on....


I love how one child interrupts here with some information that she knows. It's so like kids to jump in with ideas. And to shush each other! You can really hear the children speaking here. After hearing about 10 different things that live with the tree, the teacher asks the children what else is good about trees? They share what they know about trees and wood and ask questions like do trees have names, all in a jumble of different ideas and connections. 


This too is very genuine and seems to reflect the student-centered approach of inquiry-based learning. There are no textbooks and no lecturing; they are simply sitting beneath the tree, learning from it and each other. After the kids conclude that trees can do a lot, the teacher says they are now ready to plant the 10 tree friends for their tree.


What a lovely book.  And what a lovely message.


more tree math

We estimated how tall my tree was yesterday, but just how big is all that branchy stuff on top (aka, the crown)?


Hmmm, if I could just pop one of my boys up on the roof of that white truck in front, then I could measure one big boy unit in this picture.


Through the magic of Photoshop, I've moved one boy from the sidewalk to the top of the truck, and it turns out that one big boy unit is pretty much the distance from the top of the truck to the top of the trunk where the branches begin. Result. Now, we pop the boy ruler into the other picture, adjust so he's the right height, and...


The crown of the tree is 14 big boys around! (He makes a nice tree, doesn't he?) Seriously, that's pretty big. I never realized how wide our tree is.  That's probably because only about 2/3 of the tree is actually in front of our house.

Of course, this is the tree's most impressive side. Because of the street and the house, she hasn't been allowed to branch out the other way. I wonder how big all that branchy stuff would be if I looked down at the tree from above. Well, I don't have a blimp and Google's satellite picture looks like it's from the spring or summer.


 So that won't work. We'll just have to measure the width of the crown from below.


Luckily, I've got two boys. One boy under the farthest reaching branch on one side, one boy under the farthest reaching branch on the other side, tape measure in between. The width between the branches on the wide side came out to be about 35 feet - that was two 16 foot tape measure lengths plus another 3 feet. Our next task - measuring the skinny side - required that someone go out into the street, so I let the boys hold the end of the tape measure on the sidewalk at the side of the house under where the branches almost touch it and I walked backward into traffic holding the tape measure. I got one 16 foot tape measure length out and then saw that I was hindering rush hour traffic too much, so I looked up, estimated that there were still about 3 feet to go and ran back to safety. 16 feet plus an estimated 3 feet of no-man's land makes the skinny part of the crown 19 feet wide. 


Just one last measurement to take.


Her trunk is exactly 3 feet around. Well, that was easy.

(Pop quiz: How observant are you? Without looking back, do you remember how fast you're allowed to drive on my street?)

meet my tree

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This is my tree.  It's just a standard city tree, planted in a little cutout of the sidewalk. It tends to lean out over the street like most city trees, probably because they are pruned to keep away from the houses and power lines. This lucky tree doesn't have any power lines to contend with (unlike its neighbor to the left there). I chose this tree because we have such a good view of it from inside the house. I can observe its changes directly from our living room window, as well as from the windows in the kids' rooms. In the summer, our windows always seem filled with green, like we're living in the treetops. In the winter, however, the tree almost disappears as we look right through the naked branches to see how much snow there is outside today. (I posted a picture of our current view of the street and tree in my first post.)

So just how tall is this tree? I called upon a few little helpers to figure it out.


Okay, the tree is much bigger than a little girl (my almost 4 year-old daughter, to be specific). But how much bigger?


Ah, that much bigger. So my tree is almost 7 1/2 little girls tall. It is also...


...almost exactly 6 big boys tall (that's my son B there).

Oh, you want that in numbers? Well, each lg (little girl unit) is 42 inches and each bb (big boy unit) is 55 1/2 inches, so that puts the tree somewhere between 315 and 333 inches, or 26 1/2 to 27 3/4 feet tall.

Fun fact: The world's tallest trees measure over 370 feet tall! That's 80 big boys and over 100 little girls high!

what do you know about trees?

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What I don't know about trees is a lot.

I know that acorns become mighty oaks, but I couldn't identify an oak if you asked me to. I know that there is a tree called the Larch (thanks to Monty Python) but I couldn't identify one if you asked me to.

I know that some trees drop these flat brown seed pods the length of my forearm. We always see tons of them on our walk to school in the fall. My son B - you'll see more of him later - wanted to bring one in for show and tell once and asked me what it was. I had to look it up on the internet. We also find lots of chestnuts on the walk home, which the boys insist on collecting and then forgetting about and which also come from trees. Trees make the oddest things.


I used to know how photosynthesis works. I remember studying that in high school biology class. I don't remember the particulars now, but I know that what plants do is pretty amazing.

a plant.gif

I know that certain trees lose their leaves in the fall. I've even been to New Hampshire for fall foliage season. In the fall, the chlorophyll that makes the leaves green goes away and allows other colors to reveal themselves. In New Hampshire. I also know the words deciduous and conifer. I learned the former in school sometime and remembered it because it is such a cool word. I learned the latter from They Might Be Giants.

I remember seeing the Cherry Blossom trees in DC when I was growing up. My daughter, L - you'll see more of her, too - has a teddy bear named Cherry Blossom from the Smithsonian.


I remember reading The Giving Tree.

And I know an ant can't move a rubber tree plant. Credit Laverne and Shirley for that factual nugget.

So clearly you aren't going to learn anything from me. Try these instead.


An awesome interactive program from Boston's Arnold Arboretum that will teach you a thing or two. One thing I learned: tree people are cool.


A fun exploration of what the rings in a tree trunk can tell us on the Arbor Day Foundation's kids site.

four months in the life of a tree

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How much will you change in the next four months? How much will your kids change? How much will a tree change?

DSC03506w.jpgOver the next four months, I'll be watching this one tree, taking pictures of it, describing what it's doing (or not doing), asking questions about what's happening, and just jotting down whatever I see and think about my tree. I'm not going to do research about what kind of tree it is. I'm not going to do research about what exactly should happen to trees in springtime. I'm simply going to watch this tree and let her tell me. (Oh, yes, I've decided she's a girl. More on that later.) She is going to be my teacher for the next four months. Because she is the subject of a journal I have to keep for my science class this semester. And of course, when I hear "journal," I think "blog," so here we are.

Welcome to the treeblog.

October 2011

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

March 2011 is the next archive.

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