Friday, September 14, 2007

column 6; trees

I'm looking out my window and see at least eleven types of tree. I have no idea what any of them are. My knowledge of trees is utterly pathetic.

Of course I have an excuse. These aren't my trees. They're foreign mysterious trees. Do they even work the same way as trees in the U.S.? I doubt it. Perhaps trees in England are able to do things our trees can't. Probably not, but I wouldn't know, since I have no idea what I'm looking at.

They're pretty trees, incidentally. Tall, flowering, green. Everything I'd want in a tree. Except a name.

My dad is a plant guy. When my sister and I were young he'd traipse us all around California explaining tree names and identifying plants we'd encounter. Probably able to tell me some facts about each as well. And he's not alone in this, his two brothers have the same powers. I sorta wish I could remember what he told me about that type of oak when I was six, but alas, those memories are lost to the ravages of age.

I can identify some plants. Redwoods are pretty easy. Sunflowers. Cacti. Cypress. Poison Ivy. If it has unique characteristics to identify it I totally can. Magnolias? Piece if cake, big purple-white flowers. Sorted. I'm particularly pleased with my knowledge of Honey Locusts, those funky trees with the long brown seed pods.

"What kind of tree is that? Those bean-trees?"

"Why, that's a Honey Locust."

"Really? I've always wondered about that. Want to get a cup of coffee?"

Practical skill, identifying Honey Locusts. You're free to use this new skill on your friends. My dad and uncles would argue that almost all plants have practical knowledge to them. But I am at sea. Most trees just look like, well, trees. Tallish, greenish, and hopefully shady.

The animal world is no better. My sister, in the last six months, has developed a peculiar gist and being able to identify birds. I scroll through photos of her travels around the world at what is she taking photos of? Birds. Rare exotic birds, sometimes, but often they just look like some species of LBB. (LBB's are extremely common just about everywhere. Their full scientific name is Little Brown Bird.) I feel so inadequate.

My mom is no good at natural stuff. But if you hum a bar of any song written in the Western Hemisphere she can identify it. Everyone has something. Some little area of encyclopedic knowledge that's theirs. Some people it's game shows, others rocks, others stamps, the list goes on indefinitely. A friend of mine pursued earnestly to become a guru of techno. He probably knows more about it than most other people. Everyone has something.

I don't know what my something is, yet. And I don't think I'm alone in this. Lots of us aren't as peculiar as my family. At least, I hope not. But while we try and figure out what we'll be gurus about let's go sit under this tree. It's a maple. At least, I think it is.

1 comment:

Ross said...

To be fair - half of why I take photos of birds is so that I can ID them later. Lots of them I don't know...

But I do wish I were better at trees. I feel like as a biologist I am totally deficient at being able to identify trees.