Sunday, November 18, 2007

The tulip poplar tree

Back in the woods behind our house is a huge tulip poplar tree. The tree is native to the region, and is characterized by ubiquitous tulip-shaped leaves, and an [apparently] phenomenal blossom in the spring. This particular tree is about 150 feet high, 64 inches in diameter, and at least 250 years old. It is listed as part of the county’s treasured tree program, and is literally revered within the college community, partly for its historical significance. The tree matches a number of descriptions of a meeting place on the underground railroad from the early 1820s. Early Quaker farmers who owned this land in the early 19th century were instrumental in establishing the railroad, and standing on the steep ravine near its enormous base, one can easily imagine that this would have been a fairly effective hiding place 185 years ago.

When we moved here, a number of people told us we had to go see The Tree, and all of them provided very helpful hand directions, e.g. “Down the road by your house, off to the left, then left, then right, down a ravine and it is right there. You can’t miss it, etc.” So, I tried and couldn’t find it; I chatted with another new faculty member who had also received the same advice, but she couldn’t find it either. So, our families got together to pool our collective wisdom and couldn’t find it, and barely made it out of the darkened woods alive thanks to our trusty flashlight. I called campus facilities on a lazy Saturday and one of the guys had some spare time, took me out to show me a very fascinating beech tree with wonderfully gnarled branches. But not the tulip poplar tree. My sister + brother-in-law came to visit, and we, again searched for the tree. She suggested that this may be some sort of new faculty prank. Just as we were about to give up, we ran into a Kenyan exchange student on the path. We asked him if he knew The Tree, and he graciously offered to take us directly to it.

The Tree is pretty phenomenal, and, of course, impossible to translate into photos. Four of us wrapped our arms around it. This past weekend, RBA and I took a long walk through the woods, back to the tree which is currently bright yellow.

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