Of course, hearkening back to our elementary school days, we remember being exposed to Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees,” one generally trotted out as Arbor Day approached. I thought about those days and that poem last fall when I read Greg Hoersten’s local history piece on the link between Shawnee schools and Johnny Appleseed.
As someone who appreciates local history, I always am impressed by Reminisce each Wednesday, featuring the events and people that have given Lima and its surrounding regions its legacy.
Greg’s piece told the story of how John Chapman, better known by his moniker Johnny Appleseed, made his pass through the Ohio Valley to plant his apple seeds destined to become trees, including one believed to be his on the grounds of Shawnee schools. Greg included two photos of the tree, one from 1957 and one from 1972, with the latter shot showing a protective fence around it.
However, over time, the meteorological rigors took their toll and led to the tree’s demise. Using some of the roots of the original tree, someone with an eye on sustaining a botanical legacy made sure a second tree grew, and it remains on the school grounds with a plaque acknowledging the first tree’s planting, which occurred around 1830. While the original tree certainly would have been preferred, the offspring, I suppose, is the next best thing.
According to Logan Strain, a writer who covers technologies and green solutions, 21st century scientists have actually tried to determine just how many trees there are in the world, and the estimate is 3.04 trillion, which, written out numerically, is a very impressive 3,040,000,000,000.
Despite that grains-of-sand-on-the-beach number, there is no question that some trees are considered far more famous than others, I suppose, much like people.
As for its historical significance, it’s hard to beat the olive tree, which I saw a few years ago in such abundance off my vacation roads traveled with Lady Jane in Italy. As for longevity, olive trees can thrive for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years, which means that some were around both for ancient Rome’s rise and also its fall and, of course, long before a certain very special child was born in a stable in Bethlehem.
The redwoods of California are evergreens both known for their massive size and also their longevity, with some living more than 1,000 years. Another trip with Jane took us to California and into Muir Woods, named for Teddy Roosevelt’s famous naturalist friend. There, trails will take those in search of natural beauty between the majestically massive old-growth coastal redwoods in a setting one would never guess is just a dozen miles north of the hustle of Frisco.
If you want to get specific when it comes to famous trees, later on the same trip we saw one of the most photographed trees in all of North America, The Lone Cypress, which occupies a granite hillside overlooking the Pacific in Pebble Beach off the famous 17-Mile Drive that wends its way along the Pacific coastline through the Monterey Peninsula.
Despite losing a limb in a storm two winters ago, the tree, believed to be at least 250 years old, remains. It was officially trademarked in 1919 and has survived the strong winds so often present high above the pounding surf and, inexplicably, also has survived vandals who’ve tried to damage the tree.
And, if you think vandals wouldn’t try to hurt a tree, you don’t know the story of Toomer’s Oaks in Auburn, Alabama. Located at the intersection of Magnolia and College streets, Toomer’s Corner marks the dividing line between downtown Auburn and Auburn University. The corner is named for a former Auburn football player and former state senator Sheldon Toomer.
Over the years and long before social distancing, the site has been a familiar gathering place to celebrate Auburn football victories, especially the ones over Auburn’s bitter in-state rival, Alabama’s Crimson Tide. Legions of Auburn fans have gathered around the two live oaks estimated to be over 100 years old. Sadly, they haven’t aged a day since 2011 when they were poisoned by an ardent Tide fan named Harvey Updyke Jr.
Updyke’s crime, which cost him six months in jail and $800,000 in restitution, was one he actually admitted to on air while talking to Paul Finebaum, host of a radio show and ESPN contributor, which led to his arrest and eventual prosecution.
Following the destruction of the two venerable oaks, two replacement trees have been planted, and Toomer’s Corner will once again remain a post-pandemic gathering spot for Auburn devotees. However, to many, without the original oaks, the place just won’t be the same. We all know the feeling, don’t we, when a place that once meant so very much is gone?
Yes, some scientists have somehow figured out there are over three trillion of them, and Joyce Kilmer once put pen to parchment to extol their wonders. I can’t help but wonder if early man who admired those leafy sentinels could have ever imagined there would be certain ones that were destined to become some of the oldest and most famous entities on the planet.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.