Levin: An American Classic

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(Host) Recently, nature writer and commentator Ted Levin was reminded of the joy of trees – inside as well as out.

Several weeks ago, Annie and I sat in the kitchen eating breakfast on a
perfectly windless late fall morning. As I looked out the window, red
oak leaves rained down, as if every branch of every oak in the woods
were releasing their leaves, simultaneously and continuously. When I
awoke from my reverie, I realized that backyard raking, completed just
the day before, would have to commence again – right after breakfast.

first, I decided to consult a copy A Natural History of Trees of
Eastern and Central North America by Donald Culross Peattie, a doorstop
of a book that was originally published in 1950, to see if he had
anything to say about the downpour of oak leaves. He didn’t. But in the
process, I rediscovered why A Natural History of Trees is an American

In two volumes, divided by east and west, Peattie
described more than four hundred species of trees. Each story is imbued
with personality and is woven into the fabric of our own history on the
continent. A third volume on southern trees was never completed.
Peattie’s prose is contagious.

About the burr oak, a rare
resident of the Champlain lowlands, particularly Addison County, though
fairly common in the Midwest, he said this: "A grand bur oak suggests a
house in itself… No child who ever played beneath a bur oak will
forget it."

It makes me want rush outside to find one to play under.

grew up in Chicago, which is not exactly the sylvan capital of the
Western Hemisphere, during the early years of the twentieth century, and
lived for varying periods of time in France, Wisconsin, and California.
Both his parents were writers, and his wife was a novelist. He studied
botany at Harvard and wrote lovingly and frequently about the nature of
America, often eulogizing its lost forests and prairies.

the white pine he wrote: "When the male flowers bloomed in the
illimitable pineries, thousands of miles of forest aisle were swept with
the golden smoke of this reckless fertility…"

It makes me feel downright guilty about hosing pollen off my car.

Peattie saved some of his most eloquent writing for a short two-page
essay on the balsam fir, in which he justifies its use for Christmas.

harm, but only good, can follow from the proper cutting of young
Christmas trees. And the destiny of Balsam, loveliest of them all, would
otherwise too often be excelsior, or boards for packing cases, or
newsprint bringing horror on its face into your home. Far better that
the little tree should arrive, like a shining child at your door,
breathing of all out of doors and cupping healthy North Woods cold
between its boughs, to bring delight to human children."

Forget raking oak leaves, I want to go out and cut a little Christmas tree – even if I am Jewish.

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