I grew up primarily in rural southern Virginia, in a place where even today they don't lock their doors. The biggest crime around there, though heinous, consists of throwing Budweiser beer cans on the gravel country roads.
My brothers and I would often decide at night that we were camping out under the stars. It was okay by our parents seeing as we weren't all that close to the road so the likelihood of being bonked by a beer can was pretty low, mad-cows didn't exist yet, and the deer, while incredibly vicious to the hosta population, were found to leave children more or less intact. We'd grab our flashlights and our sleeping bags, put fireflies in jars (sorry buddies I didn't know any better then), and tell ghost stories under the large oak trees which grow like weeds in that State. Invariably someone would end up being the 'outsider' for the night and there was a 50/50 chance the shunning would result in his return to his own bed inside in the wee hours of the night. Which at that age meant 11:30pm. And who am I kidding, it was always Russ that we picked on (the littlest, we had no shame).
Sometimes those remaining would go to the old cabin, which had become the pool house, throw on our damp bathing suits and jump in the pool in the dark. It was nightswimming at its illicit best, because 'nobody' knew we were out there. (Of course except our parents who I'm sure were watching the entire time now that I realize how not sneaky we really were). We would all be as still as possible for a while and sooner or later the bats would come down and skim the water, drinking and looking for others trying to do the same, I'd guess. That entire pool area was surrounded by 3 large old apple trees and more likely than not we'd all bring some not quite ripe apples, found floating in the pool, back to our sleeping bags. If Russ was still with us we'd tell him that eating not ripe apples could kill you.
Other times instead of the pool, we'd go out to the front yard and push each other on the tire swing tied up high in one of the huge black walnut trees. The tree sat on the top of the embankment that led down to the road and if you got a push hard enough you could swing over the road tarzan-style. Sigh.
The point of this little journey down memory lane is that the trees of my childhood I can recognize in an instant, I spent so much time with them. In the dark, by the bark, by the leaves. I know them like the freckles on my arms. I think I could identify a white pine by feel alone. But move 6 hours south and to the coast? If its not a palm, magnolia or live oak, I HAVE NO IDEA. I literally wouldn't know a sweetgum tree if it fell on me. I have 3 trees on my property, one of which must be 70+ feet high, all of which I have no earthly clue as to what they are called. They have acquired nicknames: the evergreen one, the flowery one, and the big one. The one thing I can tell you, if you add the other three trees I have (a sabel palm, a crape myrtle and a live oak), NONE of the six of them grew where I grew up, which isn't all that far away. Granted, Europeans can be 2 countries away in 6 hours, but for many of us... we haven't even left the general vicinity. And heck, in NYC, you could still be on the George Washington Bridge stuck in traffic in a measly 6 hours. It is quite a wonder how nature, left to itself, tailors itself exactly to the spot.
Anyhow, as a self proclaimed nature person, I really gotta get on this tree identification thing. How insane is it that I know the names of 50 plants in my backyard, 30 types of weeds, but don't know the names of the biggest plants around?
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