Beauty of Trees
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art, and Politics.
VOL. XXI.—JUNE, 1868. — NO. CXXVIII.
THE word “beauty” is generally used to denote any quality in an object that produces agreeable sensations through the medium of sight; and, if we carefully analyze our ideas of this quality, we shall find them very obscure and indefinite. The beauty of a tree, for example, is of a very complex character, and almost entirely subjective. Trees, for the most part, are wanting in that kind of beauty which we admire in a flower, — their attractiveness being derived chiefly from their influence on the imagination, like that of the ruder works of architecture. A tree with wide-spreading branches and a dense mass of foliage, elevated but moderately above the ground, however crooked, knotted, and gnarled its branches, and however wanting in general comeliness of form, must always awaken those complex emotions that produce a sensation of beauty. Our mental pleasure, in this case, springs chiefly from its evident adaptedness to the purposes of cool shade in summer. It is moral beauty derived from the suggestion of physical comfort. A wood, indeed, is haunted with all imaginable ideas of comfort, refreshment, recreation, and seclusion at all seasons. We think of the delightful scenes and objects encompassed within it, of the flowers it has borne or protected in the spring, of the fruits it has showered into our paths in harvesttime, and of all the pleasant advantages it affords. There is also an endless variety in the forms and foliage of trees, and these differences have been at all times a favorite study for the painter and the naturalist.
There are trees possessing little or none of this fitness for purposes of comfort, that become agreeable objects by awaking pleasant emotions of an intellectual sort. Such are many of the slender Willows, Poplars, and Birches, that suggest the qualities of grace and refinement, and are typical of some virtue or affection of the mind. These trees have a sort of poetic beauty in our sight, being the material image of some agreeable metaphor. Thus Coleridge personifies the White Birch in one of his poems, pronouncing it the
Of forest-trees, —the Lady of the woods.”
Thus the Weeping Willow is emblematical of sorrow, the Yew and Cypress of melancholy, the Oak of fortitude, the Plane of grandeur; while the Cedar of Lebanon, rendered sacred by the peculiar mention of it in Holy Writ, is invested with a romantic interest which adds effect to the nobleness of its dimensions and stature. All this is moral beauty derived from the suggestion of poetic images.
Entered according to Art of Congress, in the year 1868, by TICKNOR AND FIELDS, in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
It is with certain pleasing scenes in the romance of travel that we associate the Palms of the tropics; and they have acquired singular attractions by appearing frequently in paintings and engravings that represent the life and manners of the simple inhabitants of warm climates. We see them, in pictures, bending their fan-like heads majestically over the humble hut of the negro, supplying him at once with milk, bread, and fruit, and affording him the luxury of their shade. They are typical of the beneficence of Nature, in whose hands they are the instruments by which she supplies the wants of man before he has learned from reason and experience the arts of civilized life.
The beauty of a tree, therefore, is chiefly independent of anything in its form and colors which we should call intrinsically beautiful. Though it sometimes partakes largely of this character when it is symmetrical in its form, or when it is covered with flowers, in other cases its beauty is of a moral or relative sort. The Oak, one of the most attractive of all trees, is, in an important sense, almost ugly, — being full of irregularities and contortions, and without symmetry or grace. It is allied in our ideas with strength and fortitude, and it is associated with a thousand images of rural life and pastoral scenery. Indeed, if we could always reason correctly from our experience, we should discover that a very small part of that complex quality which we denominate beauty yields any organic pleasure to the sight. It alfects the mind as a sort of talisman, that calls up hosts of delightful fantasies and associations, and agreeably exercises our intellectual and moral faculties.
Ruskin has ingeniously explained these effects. “Suppose,” he remarks, " that three or four persons come in sight of a group of Pine-trees, not having seen Pines for some time. One, perhaps an engineer, is struck by the manner in which their roots hold the ground, and sets himself to examine their fibres, in a few minutes retaining little more consciousness of the beauty of trees than if he were a rope-maker untwisting the strands of a cable ; to another, the sight of the trees calls up some happy association, and presently he forgets them, and pursues the memories they summoned; a third is struck by certain groupings of their colors, useful to him as an artist, which he proceeds immediately to note for future use with as little feeling as a cook setting down the constituents of a newly discovered dish ; anda fourth, impressed by the wild coiling of boughs and roots, will begin to change them in fancy into dragons and monsters, and lose his grasp of the scene in fantastic metamorphosis ; while, in the mind of the man who has the most power of contemplating the thing itself, all these perceptions and trains of idea are partially present, not distinctly, but in a mingled and perfect harmony. He will not see the colors of the tree as well as the artist, nor its fibres as well as the engineer; he will not altogether share the emotion of the sentimentalist, nor the trance of the idealist ; but fancy and feeling and perception and imagination will all obscurely meet and balance themselves in him.”
The one last mentioned represents the greater number of persons of sensitive minds ; for these emotions and fancies are not confined to those who are usually denominated “ men of genius.” This supposed element of genius, which causes one to see a thousand charms in many a homely object of nature, is far from being the exclusive gift of a few; I hardly ever knew a cultivated female mind that was not possessed of it.
Nature, who is a wise economist in the midst of all her profusion, is never lavish of the ingredients that excite physical pleasure. She has distributed the beauty of colors and forms very sparingly among her works, but still in sufficient proportions to render them agreeable. In like manner she has mingled the ingredients of sweetness and acidity in the fruits of her fields, to tempt and satisfy, without cloying, the appetite. A larger proportion of sweetness in the fruits, or a larger proportion of beauty in the general scenery of the earth, would cloy the palate in the one case and pall the sight in the other. The greater part of what we call the beauty of the material world is charming only to the mind or the imagination. Hence the remarkable fact, that uncultivated persons, except those few who are endowed with a poetic temperament, are almost blind to it.
Yet, while contending that the beauty of trees is chiefly of a relative character, serving, like a talisman, to call up before the mind delightful themes or images, in some cases picturesque, in other cases historical or romantic, or interesting the affections by awakening the remembrances of other years, — it will still be admitted that trees, besides all this, possess a due proportion of visual beauty. Some species are remarkable for the regularity and elegance of the forms and arrangement of their branches ; some are luminous, at certain seasons, with a gorgeous drapery of flowers ; some are invested with perennial verdure ; others change it in the autumn for a wreath of all imaginable hues, or become jewelled with fruits of purple, crimson, and gold, and illustrate, in their living charms, the poetic fable of the Hesperides.
Though it is not my intention to speak of trees as subjects of scientific research, they cannot be treated perspicuously without some reference to systematic classification. We must observe them in groups, and study these as represented by individuals. As a group, the deciduous trees are the most beautiful and the most valuable ; and, in the northern forest, all the hard-wooded trees and all the trees of the orchard are of this description. The northern evergreens are chiefly “conifers,” which, as we advance southward, become less conspicuous ; giving place to the Holly, the Magnolia, and the Evergreen Oak.
In the shape of the coniferous evergreens in general, as distinguished from the deciduous trees, there is one remarkable difference. The former invariably send up a perpendicular shaft, and, except the Cypress family, produce their branches somewhat horizontally and in whorls, rising by regular stagings one above another. It is the gradually decreasing lengths of the branches in this series of whorls that causes the pyramidal shape of the tree, — the branches becoming shorter and less horizontal as they approach the summit. The formality and firmness in the shape of this class of trees causes them to be irreparably disfigured by the loss of any of their important branches.
The deciduous trees, on the other hand, produce their branches, which are in some cases mere subdivisions of the trunk, not in whorls, but irregularly, and at different distances above the roots. This is observable in the Oak ; for, though it sends up a single shaft to its summit, its lateral branches are inserted at all points, so that its central trunk can hardly be distinguished. This manner of growth is the cause of that want of formality in the outlines and shapes of the deciduous trees which is the crowning excellence of their forms. If they lose one of their important branches when in full vigor, they fill up the vacancy with a new growth, either by the extension of the adjoining branches, or by putting forth a new one, — having the power, to a certain extent, of healing their wounds and supplying their losses. Besides all this, as a compensation for their general want of symmetrical beauty, they admit of many imperfections of shape without losing their attractions.
Writers on landscape-gardening — whose imaginations seldom stray beyond the dressed grounds of a nobleman’s estate, and whose “Nature” is a sort of queen-like personage, arrayed in Eastern splendor and magnificence — declare that trees of a certain form only will harmonize with certain styles of architecture; that round-headed trees, for example, are more proper for Gothic forms of architecture, and pyramidal trees for Grecian forms. I shall not enumerate the reasons given for this opinion, nor attempt to controvert it. Suffice it to say, that Accident — who is the best artist in real landscape, and who can exhibit among her works more beautiful pictures than Art ever yet executed or imagined — pays no regard to any such rules. With the untutored rustic for her foreman, who hews and slashes without reference to any principle but convenience, — who preserves those trees that afford the best shelter to his flocks and cattle, that skirt his fences and rude cartpaths, give firmness to a slope on a river-bank, and consistence to the soil in wet places,—she has gradually created those delightful pictures which are the charm of a great part of New England scenery.
Nature has provided against the unpleasing effects that would result from the dismemberment of trees, by giving to those which are the most common a great variety of outline, admitting of irregularity and disproportion without deformity. Symmetry in the forms of natural objects becomes in a great measure painful by making too great a demand upon the attention required for observing the order and relations of the different parts. All this is unfavorable to repose. If the objects in the landscape be irregular, both in their forms and their distribution, we make no effort to attend to the relations of parts to the whole, because no such harmony is intimated by their character. Hence the scene has the charm of repose. The opposite effect is observed in the works of architecture. Irregularity, by puzzling the mind to discover the mutual relations of parts, is unfavorable to repose, disturbing the thoughts and disappointing tire curiosity. The charm of art is variety with uniformity ; the charm of nature is variety without uniformity. Nature speaks to us in prose, art in verse.
Though we commonly admire a perfectly symmetrical Oak or Elm, because such perfection is rare, it will be admitted that the irregular forms of trees are more favorable to the production of agreeable impressions on the mind than unfailing symmetry or perfection would be. It is the non-fulfilment of some expectation, or the apparently imperfect supply of some important want, that offends the sight, — as when a disagreeable gap occurs in a finely proportioned tree. The fantastic shapes assumed by the Elm, the Swamp Oak, the Tupelo, and less frequently by the Beech and the Hickory, constitute one of the principal charms of a halfwooded landscape, and never affect the mind with those disagreeable sensations which are produced by a disfigured Firtree ; because, in the former case, the irregularities coincide with our ideas of the character of the tree, while in the latter case, by destroying its characteristic symmetry, they suggest the disagreeable idea of deformity.
Trees may be observed from still another important point of view. Some, denominated amentaceous by botanists, bear their flowers in catkins, or tassels, which are imperfect flowers, without a corolla, and comparatively wanting in beauty. Others, like the trees of our orchards, produce perfect flowers. This difference constitutes an important distinction when they are regarded as picturesque objects, since the attractions of many species depend chiefly on their flowers. Conspicuous among the latter is the Horse-Chestnut, one of the most attractive of our exotic shade-trees, distinguished by the complete subdivision of its trunk into equal branches, by its umbrageous shade, its singular palmate leaves, and, above all, by its upright racemes of beautiful flowers. The Horse-Chestnut has been very aptly compared to a chandelier containing a multitude of girandoles, — the flowers representing the different clusters of compound lights. There are but few trees which have a more artificial look when in flower, — yet there is no disagreeable primness in its shape or outlines.
Though Nature infinitely exceeds art in beauty and variety, she sometimes derives a fanciful charm from a similitude of her productions to those of art, — as art, on the other hand, derives incomparable attractions from an apparently true representation of nature. Many of the flowering trees and shrubs have this fancied resemblance to art in their inflorescence.
There are other trees that bear their flowers in pendulous racemes, hanging like jewels from their boughs. Such are the Acacias of the West Indies and the Locust-tree of North America. Few trees exceed the last in that sort of beauty which arises from the combination of two opposite qualities, — in this instance, of rudeness and elegance. Its soft pinnate leaves, harmonizing with the character of its flowers, that droop in pendent clusters from the branches, oppose their graceful beauty to the rough irregularity of the limbs and general uncouth form of the tree, diffusing throughout the atmosphere a fragrance that breathes only of health and enjoyment. I am not acquainted with any tree that surpasses the Locust in that visual quality which produces a charming sensation of nature combined with art in its simplicity. This is partly due to the plain hues of its flowers, and more still, perhaps, to the imperfect shape of the tree, which is never formal or symmetrical. Some trees, by constant association with highly dressed grounds, have lost their power to yield that peculiar delight which we derive from the fresh beauty of nature. In dressed grounds we look for precision and formality : nature is always treated with irreverence, and wealth only with respect. But Pride never yet placed her footprints upon the earth without spoiling the whole landscape upon which they were visible. The trees in highly decorated grounds are commonly perfect in their shape, and the manner In which they are irregularly distributed does not save them from the curse of formality. The prudery of taste cannot be concealed by any such artifice, and trees which are rude and inelegant in their forms offend the humor of such a landscape. The Locust, therefore, is always rejected by the gardener for those very qualities which render it a delightful object to the votary of nature.
In trees with rosaceous flowers, nature exhibits some of the fairest ornaments of northern climes ; and these are the only northern trees that produce a pulpy fruit. Such are all the trees of our orchards,—the Cherry, the Peach, the Apple, and the Pear, also the Mountain Ash and its allied species, down to the Mespilus and the Hawthorn. These trees are suggestive rather of the farm and its pleasant appurtenances than of rude nature ; but so closely allied to nature is the farm, when under the direction of its unsophisticated owner, and unbedizened by taste, that its accompaniments seem to be a rightful part of Nature’s domain. The simplicity of the rustic farm coincides with the freshglowing charms of nature ; and a row of Apple-trees, overshadowing the wayside, forms an arbor in which the rural deities might revel as in their own sylvan solitudes ; and Nature herself wears a more charming appearance when to her own rude costume she adds a wreath twined by the rosy fingers of Pomona.
The blossoms of the rosaceous trees are invariably white, or crimson, or the different shades of these two colors combined. Those of the Cherry and the Plum are constantly white ; those of the Peach and the Almond, crimson; those of the Pear and the Mountain Ash are also white ; and those of the Apple, when half expanded, are crimson, changing to white or blush-color as they expand. The colors of the Hawthorns vary with their species, which are numerous. As I have already intimated, Nature is not lavish of those forms and hues which are the ingredients of pure visual or objective beauty. She displays them very sparingly under ordinary circumstances, that we may not be wearied by their stimulating influence, and thereby lose our susceptibility to the impressions of homely objects. But at certain times, and during very short periods, she seems to exert all her powers to fascinate the senses. It is in these moods that she wreathes the trees with flowers for a short time in the spring, and, just before the dusky shades of autumn have settled upon the earth, illuminates the forests with colors as beautiful as they are evanescent.
Another group of flowering trees — found rarely in northern climes — is represented by the Magnolia and the Tulip-tree. These trees have obtained a great deal of celebrity, on account of their blossoms, which are chiefly remarkable for their extraordinary size and their powerful fragrance. The Magnolia, with its dark evergreen foliage, is a valuable gift of nature to the inhabitants of the arid plains and valleys of the South; and its flowers make a magnificent appearance at certain seasons. The Tulip-tree has many of the same characteristics ; it attains in favorable situations an extraordinary size, and is an admirable ornament for dressed grounds, where its lofty stature, its symmetrical form, its smooth branches, and its polished foliage, are in “excellent keeping” with the graded lawn, the fanciful flower-beds, the serpentine walks, and other pseudo-natural affectations.
The most noble trees in existence are of the amentaceous group, — bearing imperfect flowers in the form of aments, or catkins. To this class belong the Oak, the Plane, the Chestnut, the Hickory, the Beech, the Bines, and, indeed, the greater part of the northern forest-trees. It includes almost all the nut-bearers, from the Walnut down to the diminutive Hazel. These trees are not remarkable for the beauty of their flowers, which are without a corolla; but in many of them the aments constitute a flowing drapery that rivals the grace and elegance of the more splendid flowering trees. The aments of the Chestnut resemble silken tassels, glistening like golden fringe amidst the darker masses of foliage ; those of the Oak exhibit a greater variety of hues, and their drooping character forms a beautiful contrast with the sturdy bearing of the tree, while their brown and purple tints harmonize with the less decided hues of the half-expanded foliage. The Willows and Poplars derive a considerable share of their vernal attractions from this silken, drapery,— adorned in some of the species with a great variety of colors.
Besides the many different forms which we observe in trees, nature causes the most of them to change their appearance many times during the year; and in this mutability we note one of the superior advantages of the deciduous trees. The evergreens, if they were universal, would be apt to weary the sight by presenting at all seasons the same monotonous vestiture of dark, sombre green ; for the changes that happen to them are hardly sufficient to be readily observed. Yet it is to the evergreens we owe some of the most important features of winter scenery. They present, in their perennial verdure, a lively opposition to the whiteness of the snow and the general brown of vegetation, and fill the mind with pleasant images of the protection they afford from the severity of the clime. Besides the cheerful feature they add to winter scenery, by relieving its expression of harshness, they serve in the autumn to publish the beauty of the tinted groups, to which their sombre groundwork of verdure gives a more prominent relief.
The deciduous trees, though of less value to us in winter, possess more various attractions, — fading and brightening, dying, as it were, and then reviving, and passing with every successive season through a series of transformations which are ever new and striking. The Cherry-tree of our gardens, being a familiar object, may be instanced to exemplify these changes. In the winter we perceive only the network formed by its branches ; we see their whorls, one above another, in stages somewhat similar to those of a Fir-tree. In May it puts forth its light-green plaited leaves ; and, before these are entirely unfolded, its white flowers, like miniature roses, appear in a sudden glow of splendor. The flowers are succeeded by drupes of berries, distinguished among the leaves by their lighter shades of green, passing through a gradation of tints, from a light yellow and blushcolor to orange, crimson, and purple. Finally, just before the fall of the leaf, appear those indescribable tints which are emblematic of autumn, and which are as conspicuous in the Cherry-tree as in the trees of our indigenous forest.
While Nature, in the forms and colors of the foliage of trees, and the arrangement of their branches, causing a great variety of outline, has provided a constant entertainment for the sight, and a pleasing exercise for the mind and imagination, she has also increased their attractions by endowing them with a different susceptibility to motion from the action of the winds. Some species, like the Balsam Fir, having stiff branches and foliage, are merely rocked backwards and forwards by the wind, without any separate motion of their leaves. This inflexibility renders the Firs and some of their allied species less expressive than many other trees of those agreeable qualities that suggest the ideas of grace and liveliness. Others have stiff branches with flexible leaves, so that, while they do not bend to a moderate breeze, they exhibit animation by the movements of their foliage. This quality is observed in the Oak, the Ash, and the Locust, and in all those deciduous trees that have a somewhat pendulous foliage, and are wanting in a flexible spray.
This trembling habit of the foliage is most remarkable in the Poplar tribe, and is proverbial in the Aspen. It is also conspicuous in the common Peartree, and in the little White Birch. All tremulous leaves are somewhat heartshaped, having a long footstalk more or less flattened ; and on this flatness their flexibility chiefly depends. This tremulousness, under certain conditions of the weather, is very affecting, and has given rise to many poetical images and fables in the literature of all civilized nations.
Other trees, like the American Elm, when swayed by the wind exhibit a graceful waving of their branches, with but little apparent motion of their leaves. We observe the same motions in the Weeping Willow, and in other trees with a drooping spray, in which the flexibility of the branches is more apparent than that of the foliage. Here it may be remarked that the lines described by the motions of trees with upright branches differ essentially from those of the drooping trees. The motions of hanging branches are particularly pleasing, because they are associated with ideas of facility and repose. They please still more, perhaps, by their resemblance to certain living forms, which are allied with the feminine graces. I believe there is not a single motion of a tree, or of any other plant, that does not in part derive its power to please from its suggestion of some agreeable image of our own life.
An exceedingly beautiful waving of the branches is noticeable in a grove of Hemlocks, when they are densely assembled without being crowded ; and it is remarkable that one of the most graceful of trees should belong to a family which is distinguished by its stiffness, formality, and want of grace. The Hemlock, unlike other Firs and Spruces, has a very flexible spray ; and its foliage is constantly showing its under silvery surface when moved by the wind. If we look from an opposite point upon the outside of a grove of Hemlocks, when they are exposed to a brisk but moderate current of wind, we may observe a peculiar undulating movement of their foliage and branches, made more apparent by the glitter of the leaves, that resemble a collection of minute spangles, with one dark and one glittering surface. Nature presents to us, in all the infinitely various motions of her vegetable forms, nothing so beautiful as these undulations in a grove of Hemlocks.
While the Hemlocks, by their motions, represent the undulations of the sea, when it is considerably agitated without any broken lines on its surface, other species of Fir exhibit in their motions harsher angles. If we look upon a grove of Balsam Firs or Pitch Pines, we shall see that the tops of these trees, and the extremities of their branches, swaying backward and forward, form a surface like that of the ocean, when it is broken by tumultuous waves of a moderate height. The undulations of the Hemlocks present an appearance of curve-lines, flashing with the silvery lustre of their foliage ; those of the Firs are more angular, with broken lines. Hence the one suggests the ideas of tumult, contention, and the dangers of the waves ; the other, that of life and motion, combined with serenity and peace.
In a strong current of wind, individual trees, when they are tall and slender, awaken our interest by bending over uniformly, like a plume. This habit is particularly noticeable in the small White Birch, and in the young trees of some other species. All objects that bend to the breeze, in consequence of their apparent flexibility, are interesting, inasmuch as they are typical of resignation and humility, qualities which always excite our sympathy. Hence the drooping forms of vegetation are highly poetical, as we observe of lilies, which, with less positive beauty, are more interesting than tulips. But we will pass from this consideration of the motions of trees to treat of another quality no less intimately associated with their beauty.
When the branches of trees are swayed by the wind, and their leaves are glancing in the light of the sun, their motions are accompanied by various sounds which are an important part of the music of nature. Indeed, the motions of terrestrial objects seem never to be attended with silence. The poetic notion of the music of the spheres may be an erroneous conceit of the imagination, or but the metaphorical expression of the harmony of their movements. But whether the heavenly bodies pass through their sublime evolutions without producing sounds consequent on their march, or whether the different stages of their progress may be accompanied by sounds which are the source of ineffable delight to those immortal beings capable of perceiving them, it must be allowed that analogy is in favor of this poetical affirmation. For over all this earth motion is accompanied by sound ; and the more rapid motions of the planetary bodies through the more attenuate celestial atmosphere may produce similar effects, transcending all melodies which can be perceived bymortal cars. Imagination often suggests a truth that lies beyond the ken of our understanding, which was given us for judgment, not for discovery ; and the music of the spheres may be something more than a metaphor.
But the sounds from terrestrial objects alone are sufficient to inspire the mind with exalted thoughts. How often have I sat delighted under the branches of a Pine grove, and listened to the fancied roaring of the distant waves of the sea, as the wind passed through the foliage ! As the breeze commences, we seem to hear the first soft rippling of the waves ; when it increases, succeeding waves of fuller swell flow tremulously in a delightful crescendo upon the strand, and, after the wind is lulled, sink into silence as they recede from the shore. In a grove of Birches, the sounds are suggestive of more lively images. It seems as if a host of Zephyrs. with their invisible wings, were holding a revel among the branches,— rising now. and then alighting, as in the movement of some elfin dance, and pursuing one another through all the intricate mazes of the foliage. — sped by æolian melodies that convey the sweetest delight to the ears of mortals.
And we need not marvel, when we listen to these sounds, that an imaginative and superstitious race should have lent ear to them as to voices from heaven, — that they should have peopled the groves with deities possessing the most lovely attributes, who gave tongues to the winds, and tuned the leaves of trees so, that every motion should make them vibrate with music.
Whether we ourselves are adjusted to Nature, or Nature has accommodated her gifts to our wants and sensibilities, her beneficence is in nothing more apparent than in her adaptation of the sounds of the inanimate world to the chords within our own hearts. If we are afflicted with grief, or weary of society, we flee to the groves, to be soothed by the quiet of their solitudes, and by the harmonies from their branches, which are tuned to every mood of the mind. Among the thousand strings that are swept by the winds, there is always a chord in unison with our own feelings ; and while, at lulling intervals, each strain comes to the ear with its accordant vibration, the mind is healed of its disquietude, and soothed by the melodious symphonies that seem like direct messages of peace from the guardian deities of the wood.
The tremulous habit of the Aspen has always been proverbial, and it is a quality of all the Poplars. When a strong wind prevails, the leaves of other trees are put into motion, and their tumult is universal. But when one is sitting at a window, on a still summer day, or sauntering in the wood, or musing in the shade of a quiet nook, — when the wind is so calm that the hum of the invisible insect swarms hovering in the atmosphere is plainly audible, — then is the trembling motion of the Aspen-leaves peculiarly significant of the serenity of the elements. It is, therefore, a highly tranquillizing sound, associated with rest In the languor of noon, or with watching in the still hours of a warm night.
When the quiet of the atmosphere is beginning to yield to the movement of a rising tempest, the Aspen, by its excessive agitation, gives us a prophetic warning of its approach. Often on a summer afternoon, the first notice I have received of a rising thunder-storm came from the increased trepidation of the leaves of a Poplar that grew before my study window. Thus, while the rustling of the Aspen-leaf speaks of the delightful tranquillity of summer weather, there is likewise a tender expression of melancholy in its tones, that bodes a general stirring of the winds as they come up from the gathering-place of the storm.
The preservation of trees from the destruction to which they are exposed from so many requisitions — to supply the necessities of the arts and the demands of human comfort, and, above all, to satisfy the raging appetite of millions of furnaces that glow perpetually in all parts of the land — has become a subject of serious thought. The steamengine— that giant infernal -machine, which borrows from future generations to serve the impatient demands created by the avarice of the present age — is the grand destroyer of the trees and forests. Already is it threatening to enter the pleasant domain of agriculture, — to stifle with its screams the cheerful sounds that make a rural home delightful, — to substitute for the music of the whetting of the scythe, and for the joyful voices of laborers, the hurried words of command from the driver of the steamplough and the foreman of the rustic platoon. Already are the advocates of its despotic power losing their reverence for the noble standard trees that encumber the way of its ruthless progress, and learning to contemplate with satisfaction the fields reduced to treeless levels, over which this slave-making machine may turn its long furrows without obstacle, in mammoth plains created by the destruction of small farms.
Setting aside all the economic uses of trees, their beauty and their influence on our happiness would alone render them worthy of protection and preservation. All men appreciate the awful condition in which we should be placed if the earth were entirely disrobed of trees; but we do not fully realize the necessity of a determination on the part of every citizen to use all his personal influence to prevent the destruction of them, and to see that no valuable tree is ever needlessly sacrificed, and that no barren eminence or declivity is ever deprived of its wood.
May the time never come when all the full-grown trees shall be banished to the roadside, the public grounds, or the gentleman’s estate ; and when the youth of our villages, excluded from field and wood, — no longer the dwellingplace of sylvan beauty and the scene of healthful labor and recreation, but a hateful show of dressed lawn and aristocratic park, — shall mourn over the progress of luxury which has destroyed the Wildwood, graded the diversities of surface, and converted the beautiful domain of rustic labor into one vapid confederation of landscape gardens and model farms !
It is difficult to realize how great a part of all that is cheerful and delightful in the recollections of our own life is associated with trees. They are allied with the songs of morn, with the quiet of noonday, with social gatherings under the evening sky, and with all the beauty and attractiveness of every season. Nowhere does nature look more lovely, or the sounds from birds and insects, and from inanimate things, affect us more deeply, than in their benevolent shade. Never does the blue sky appear more serene than when its dappled azure glimmers through their green trembling leaves. Their shades, which, in the early ages, were the temples of religion and philosophy, are still the favorite resort of the studious, the scene of healthful sport for the active and adventurous, and the very sanctuary of peaceful seclusion for the contemplative and sorrowful.
In our early years, we are charmed with the solitude of groves, with the flowers that dwell in their recesses, with the little creatures that sport among their branches, and with the birds that convey to us by their notes a portion of their own indefinable happiness. At a later period of life, the wood becomes a hallowed spot, where we may review the events of the past. Nature has made use of trees to wed our minds to the love of homely scenes, and to make us satisfied with life. How many visions of village merry-makings, of rural sports and pastimes, of the frolics of children, and of studious recreation, haunt us when we sit down under the protection of some old familiar tree that stands in the open field or by the wayside !
In fine, I cannot help regarding trees as the most poetical objects in nature, Every wood teems with suggestions of imaginative thought, every tree is vocal with language and music, and its fruits and flowers do not afford more luxury to the sense than delight to the mind. The trees have their roots in the earth, but they send up their branches towards the skies, and are so many supplicants to Heaven for blessings upon our homes. The slender gracefulness of the Birch and the Willow, the grandeur of the broad-spreading Plane, the venerable majesty of the Oak, the flowing dignity of the Elm, and the proud magnificence of the towering Pine, are all calculated to inspire the mind with serene, lively, tender, or sublime emotions. Their beauty leads us to the love of nature, and fills us with profound veneration for the Creator.