Saturday, October 18, 2008

Questions of taste

Linda is skeptical about this; but the truth is that I picked the site for our house so it could face due South toward the sugar maple tree about a hundred feet down toward the creek. I also picked the site to face a little to the right of due South of a beautiful scarlet oak which then promptly died. I failed to ensure that the ground level around the scarlet oak wasn't changed when they excavated for the basement of the house and regraded the lot. And that happened because we wanted the house to sit a couple of feet higher than the former grade level to improve the view of the pond.

All very complicated; but as a result we've had a great view of that sugar maple tree out the South facing windows as it has grown these past twenty-four years. I was about to say that there are few trees as magnificent as a sugar maple at this time of year; but that's not true. What's true is that there are no trees as magnificent as a sugar maple at this time of year. And there is only one tree, the sweetgum, that can and will make an effort at competing when its leaves start to turn in a couple of weeks; but by then the sugar maple's leaves will be a dim memory. It's impossible to keep in memory an accurate picture of the subtle reds and oranges and yellows and greens that make up the sugar maple right now, and it is impossible to capture its full glory in a photograph, so in truth even the effort of comparison between it and other trees is questionable. Vincent Van Gogh could have captured its full glory, and he would have if he could have; but he never saw a sugar maple tree.

You can get a dim idea of what I'm talking about by checking out the color wheel of leaf colors on this wikipedia page.

Our sugar maple is actually a very young tree. It was perhaps twenty years old in 1984 when it was about forty feet tall and had aabout an eight inch diameter trunk. It's now about eighty feet tall and its trunk is about eighteen inches in diameter. As an aside, I was pleased to see that the tree at the Morton Arboretum whose picture is posted on wikipedia is a lightweight next to our tree. And our tree is a mere youth. I'm too lazy to look it up right now; but I think our tree can expect a life span measured in hundreds of years; and it can conceivably grow to a trunk girth of four or five feet at which point the spread of its branches (there's a better word I want here but again I'm lazy), the spread of its branches - aha - the diameter of its canopy, dripline - still not exactly right, dagnabit, but I'll settle on dripline for now. You'd think I would remember that word because the reason we have a crappy silver maple in the spot formerly occupied by that long dead scarlet oak is because I didn't realize that the ground level could not be changed all the way out to its dripline.

But enough with the dripline or canopy or spread, or whatever. When the sugar maple is mature in a couple of hundred years the diameter of its dripline will be as great or greater than its hundred and fifty foot height. A pity I won't be around to see it.

But I will be around to see the sweetgum when its leaves turn in a couple of weeks. The sweetgum will be quite a bit more garish than the sugar maple now is when it reaches the peak of its color; but I'll appreciate it for the same reason that I can appreciate Van Gogh even as I appreciate Monet, although, oddly enough, when it comes to art in a museam or on the printed page I'm more a fan of the flashy Van Gogh than of the subtle Monet. I think it's a question of scale. Had he ever seen a sugar maple in its glory Monet would have painted it realistically; but Van Gogh would have captured its eighty by forty feet of subtle beauty and condensed it into an eye popping splash that would have expanded in one's mind into a full sized tree.

And that's why I prefer Van Gogh. At two or four or six or eight foot wide scale I want to be knocked over; I want colors to pop out at me. At eighty by forty foot I prefer a bit more subtlety of shading.

Meanwhile I have to get out into the woods. And while I'm out there I have to contemplate the important question of taste that Linda just asked me. Would I prefer chocolate chip cookies tomorrow, or would I prefer coconut custard pie. I've already given my provisional answer that I would prefer chocolate chip cookies if they're going to have nuts, and I would prefer the coconut custard pie if I can't have nuts in the cookies to give them a bit of texture and bite. But I have to think some more about that. And I have to see how things are out in the woods across Doony Brook.

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