Tuesday, December 18, 2012

THE TANNENBAUM



Every working day, on my commute to and from the time-punching machine, I pass the following sign perched atop a warehouse that towers over the sound barrier of Highway 76.


Kindy’s Christmas Factory Outlet.

I’ve been looking for a place like this.

Every tree-blogger worth their salt has to tackle the Christmas tree…but how?  Where to go?

I needed an angle.

Maybe it’s this Kindy’s.  Maybe this sign really is a sign.

I checked the Kindy’s website and it looked encouraging…fine photos of bright homes decked out in colorful patterns of blinking lights…a boy perched on his father’s shoulders planting the ornamental star on the top branch…a handsome, slim family nestled around the illuminated conifer…plus promises of real live trees, photographed in a snowy lot, each tree shining green under a light dusting of downy frost.

Kindy’s has been around since 1980…the retail outlet for the Brite Star Manufacturing Company located in South Philly…and, according to its website, it is the premier stop for all things Christmas…the Kindy’s shopping experience [is] a fun-filled family holiday tradition.

This could be the place.

Look, I’m one hardened, sarcastic scalawag of a citybilly.  I’m a rogue and I’m a rounder and, yet, around this time every year, I just say hark that. 

I yearn to be swept away by the holidays.

T’is the season and I want to feel it…the spirit, the glee, the mirth.  I want to wash away my cynicism with good, old-fashioned holiday cheer.  I know my weather and I know my Wheel so I know not to expect a white Christmas, though that would be lovely…but I want all the rest.

I want to feel part of something...to feel connected...hard to do while living in this urban grid...hard to do, at this time of year, while fighting traffic, fighting crowds, fighting lines to the registers.  

I want that warm glow in the bottom of my belly…I want to turn into a happy stooge…heedless of the wind and weather…I want peace and joy on Turtle Island…I want to deck the halls…I want to sing along. 

I want to be jolly.

And so…with a seasonal sense of optimism, under a typical sky of the Long Snow Moon…scudding trails of storm-clouds twisting inside-out, revealing their dark and rainy hearts…I traveled through the mean streets to the Kindy’s Christmas Factory Outlet.


Ho, ho, ho.

Friday, December 7, 2012

ARMY VS. NAVY



This weekend, here in Philadelphia, we partake in an old tradition…the annual Army versus Navy football game.

Here we go again.   

Since 1890, these two branches of the American military have duked it out over possession of the pigskin, fighting for yardage and first downs, charging to the red zones, punching past the goal lines, kicking it through the uprights…clashing like titans on the combat zones of a neutral football field.


The majority of these epic battles have taken place right here in Philadelphia.  In the early twentieth century, these games were hosted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field…then it was moved to the old JFK Stadium…and now?  The Lincoln Financial Field all the way down Broad Street in South Philly.

The U.S. Military Academy of West Point versus the U.S. Naval Academy of Annapolis…the Army Black Knights versus the Navy Midshipmen…after 112 meetings on the football gridiron, the record stands in Navy’s favor…56 wins, 49 losses and 7 ties.

But who’s got the better trees?

In the competitive, collegiate spirit of this yearly contest, Jon Spruce goes a-hunting…Army vs. Navy, tree-style…which branch of the military here in Philadelphia has the greatest trees and the wildest wilds…huddle up and blow the whistle...line up and kick off…knock ‘em down but keep it clean…hike, hike...who will win this contest of the wilds…because if winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?

Let the games begin…are you ready for some trees?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

THE JON SPRUCE HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE



People are always asking me: Dear Jon Spruce, what makes a good gift for a tree-hunting citybilly?

This happens every year.

Maybe you have a newborn in the family…and you want to make sure they’ll grow up with an inquisitive mind, observant eyes and hungry hands…no time to waste. 

Maybe you got a little nephew or a cousin…someone who always comes in for the Sunday dinner with dirty nails and scabby knees.

Hey, ladies, maybe you want to catch the attention of that dashing, scrappy urban rambler that keeps bumping into you around the neighborhood…or maybe, this year, your Secret Santa is that weird dude in the other cubicle who’s always cracking black walnuts in the break room.

What do they want?

What material possession could possibly thaw their cynical, frosty spirits?  What one thing has the potential to pierce and brighten their somber, restless souls?  What one gift could make a dent in their deep, bottomless hearts?

This is not an easy question and there are no easy answers.

By anybody’s standards, we are not the easiest to shop for.

By nature, we live simple, uncluttered lives and we don’t make room for knickknacks, or ornaments, or the modern bauble of devices, appliances, gizmos and doodads.

Electric toothbrushes.

The last thing you want to give a citybilly is some mass-produced trinket…something that just takes up space.

Celebrity bobble-heads.

Not that we don’t have any treasured material possessions.  A lot of times, that’s all we have. 

But these are things that weren’t bought…and can’t be given…and certainly cannot be owned…or returned.  We cherish things that are native, true and seasonal…things full of marrow, things that cut close to the heart.  We want our things to be durable, tough, sentimental and built to last.

Like the poet Gary Snyder once wrote: you don’t want nothing that can’t be left out in the rain.

Sorry but we’re picky…and we like to pick battles with inanimate objects.   

Material possessions?  We’re not supposed to pine for those things.

In fact, those are the very things that we’re trying to shed.  No adornments.  No miscellany.  We need drinks when we’re thirsty, eats when we’re hungry, a few extra potatoes for a little bit of fun and, every once in a while, an elegant, unclouded, perfect epiphany…now how you gonna fit that into a box?

But before ye lose faith during this holiday season, let me tell you that there is hope.  There are gifts out there that any citybilly worth their salt would love to receive…and so I humbly present the Jon Spruce Holiday Gift Guide…chock full of the oldest trends and the ancient fads…completely out of fashion and cluelessly out of vogue…if we didn’t have bad style, we’d have no style at all…the do’s and the don’ts of shopping for citybillies.

Researching this subject was not an easy task.  It took tremendous willpower, herculean self-sacrifice, lots of cider and hours upon hours of transcendental meditation…but I did it.

For the blog, and for you, I did it.


I went to the frigging mall.

Monday, November 19, 2012

CATCHING COLOR



There’s a famous quote from a nameless Native American in response to Daylight Savings Time:

Only the white man thinks you can tear a foot off the top of the blanket, sew it to the bottom of the blanket and come away with a bigger blanket.

It’s funny, but I’m not in the laughing mood.

Most people dismiss it as a minor inconvenience, whatever, just a glitch in the calendar.

But there’s a small, burgeoning segment of the population that isn’t fooled.  Growing stronger and more politically acute every day, there is a silent renegade minority that sees Daylight Savings Time for what it really is.

War.

It started a long, long time ago…in the very beginning of the Agricultural Revolution…there in the lush and irrigated fields of Mesopotamia…amateur farmers making rows in the shadows of ziggurats…domesticating the cow, befriending the dog, taming the seed, pulling the weed and propagating the tuber…the invention of the Modern Man…since the very cradle of civilization, it’s been an out-and-out war.

Standardized time versus solar time.  The industrialist versus the idle.  The trans-tribal commerce versus the neighborly barter. 

And twice a year, the time-punchers and the day-jobbers score a victory…Daylight Slavings Time.

I don’t want to start trouble…but I’m suspect.  I really don’t like early sunsets perfectly synchronized to quitting time.  I don’t trust that one bit.  I don’t like society and government deciding that sunlight is more productive in the morning than in the afternoon.  And I don’t like big business turning my clock.

That means war.

According to most scholars of the subject, standardized time has been winning the battle ever since the first World War when it was first decreed the law of the land.  It was re-enacted again during the second World War and it gained even more popularity at the same time our society started living to the rhythms of the global financial network, the electronic communication grid, the pocketwatch, and the transportation schedule.

The commuter versus the ambler.  The time-keeper versus the shadow-watcher.  At the desk and on hold or out to lunch and off the grid.  The broker versus the broke.

It’s war, I tell you.

And it really limits the time I have for tree-hunting. 

Just when the getting’s getting good.

That’s why I like to save one pre-approved vacation day for mid-November…some random day of the week…just punch out, boots on, machines off.

It’s called hookey.  It’s easy to do.  I just clock out.

I clock out and I catch me some color.


Some good, raw, primary color…

 












…humming in the crisp breeze, polished by the blue sky…

 











…that rustic, quilted pattern of color we call autumn.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

THE CAVE OF KELPIUS



Citybillies, the rumors are true. 

It’s confession time.  About a week ago, I gave in to the holiday spirit and dressed up in costume.

Why would I do such a thing?  Well, I mean, the list of reasons isn’t anything out of the ordinary.  Friends, women, chocolate and wine.  Good friends and outgoing women.  Free chocolate.  Lots of wine…and just a basic, thirsty yen for society.

Hey, it happens.

But listen.

This wouldn’t be just some cheap costume picked off the racks.

If I was going to dress up, then I would spend Hallowe’en, not in costume, but in embodiment…walking in someone else’s shoes…seeing the world through the eyes of another….and nothing to do with chocolate or candy or nougat or taffy…this would be about nature’s candy…my favorite seasonal fruit…a change of season in every crunch.

I spent Hallowe’en dressed up as one of my favorite figures in all of Turtle Island’s long, storybook history…one of the greatest farmers that ever put seed to dirt…the man behind the myth…one of those weird, wonderful, whimsical, virtuous madmen that lurk in the margins of the history textbooks…the one and only John Chapman.


All right.  Fine.

Johnny Appleseed.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

ERASERHOOD



People are always asking me: Hey, Jon Spruce, will you come to my Hallowe’en party?

Thanks for the invitation, ladies, but I always pass.  Hallowe’en?  It’s not for me.  I’m waiting…I’m biding my time until the holiday returns to its true and native harvest roots.

I’m waiting until it becomes horrible once again.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like horror, I really do…which is why I’m patiently sitting out of the festivities until it becomes the kind of party it used to be…All Hallow’s Eve…or, in its original Celtic tongue, Samhain, meaning summer’s end.

It used to really be something…the end of the harvest and the beginning of the dark days of winter…when the cattle and sheep and goats were led from the pastures back to the barns and stables and fenced lots…a time of slaughter…a time of haystack making…when the summer fields were ignited into bonfires…a celebration of the autumn crop of rye and barley, apples, pears, quince, gourds and pumpkins…not this sugar-coated day of plastic spiders and fake cobwebs and mass-produced scarecrows, silly office parties serving candy corn and pumpkin-flavored cupcakes.

Where’s the horror in all that?

And costumes? 

I look the other way.  Seeing people on the bus or behind their desks in costumes?  It used to infuriate me.  Now, it just makes me sad.

Why?  Because back in the Samhain days of Hallowe’en, those costumes didn’t win you a free candy bar or a free round of drinks…those costumes saved your life.

During the good old Samhain days, it was once told, the quickening nightfalls and the early moons triggered the opening of doors…secret portals and foggy gateways that revealed the Otherworld, that sister-universe running parallel to ours.  Drawn by the light of the bonfires and the smell of the slaughter, the population of the Otherworld would pass through these doors and walk amongst us. 

Donning hideous masks?  That was the only way we could assimilate into the ghostly parade of spirits, demons, monsters and boogermans. 

So, thanks for the invitation but I’m out.  I’m waiting.  I guess I just like my horror the old fashioned way…which is why I went down to pay my yearly respects to the master of macabre himself…to the Edgar Allan Poe House located at 8th and Spring Garden.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

BIRDBERRIES: THE DUCKS FLY MOON



In case you didn’t notice, it’s officially October.

 












We’re halfway through the first moon of autumn, the Ducks Fly Moon. 

Beware, citybillies.  This moon is a game changer.

According to the farmer’s almanac, at the beginning of this moon, the length of daylight is a little bit over twelve hours long.  Here in the middle of the moon, a day spans about eleven hours, thirty minutes long…and by the end, the sun will rise at 7:30am and set at 6:15pm, a mere ten hours, forty five minutes of precious, cold, cloudy daylight.

From here on out, the moon dominates the twenty-four hours…these drizzly days of October.
 
Looking at the almanac’s chart of sunrises and sunsets, we are losing one minute of sunlight per day every morning…and sometimes two minutes of sunlight every evening …the two bookends of night are slowly, mechanically closing in…no escape from October.


Take heed, citybillies.  This drastic change of daylight, these falling temperatures, these days turning into nights …this moon is a trigger.

It sets things in motion.


Out there…beyond the frosted pane…beyond the cozy confines of a warm blanket and a hot cup of cider…things are changing...things are moving just as fast as the day is retreating…spiders are crawling into the warm home, hiding in the basement, nesting under the bed…snakebite cases skyrocket…and in the kingdom of Plantae?

Things reverse.  The growing season stops…the kilter comes off…plants and trees now spend all their energy undressing for the winter.  They’re battening down the hatches.  You can notice it first in the colors.  Greens turn to reds and oranges, russets and yellows.

Well…not exactly.

The trees aren’t changing colors, really.  More precisely, they are losing colors.  Well, to be exact, they are losing one color…green.

Here’s what’s happening.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

THE PHILADEPHIA UNDERSTORY



Happy anniversary, Philly Trees.

September marks the sixth month anniversary of the Philly Trees blog and, in honor of that anniversary, I agreed to sit down for a one-on-one interview with Philadelphia’s favorite meteorologist, Cecily Tynan.


Cecily Tynan has been studying, and reporting on, the movement of the Medicine Wheel here in Philadelphia since 1995…no one understands the Philly seasons and their totems better than Ms. Tynan.

She’s seen it all…the highs, the lows, the scattered thunderstorms, the hot and humid summers, Hurricane Floyd in 1999, and the big daddy of them…Snowpocalypse 2010.  Nothing on the never-ending Wheel escapes the notice of Ms. Tynan.

Our interview brought back a lot of memories, especially from the beginning of the blog…and, to think, here we are at the beginning of Brother Grizzly’s first moon of autumn…the Ducks Fly Moon…six months down the line from Wabun the Golden Eagle and his Budding Trees Moon fever.  Six months and two seasons, from flowers to leaves to fruits and now back to leaves, from blossoms to acorns, there’s always something happening, always something worth watching when it comes to the Philadelphia understory…talk about your action news.

The broadcast date of the interview has yet to be announced…so we’ll celebrate the big six months right here on the blog…a candid, sentimental, sappy look back at all of my triumphs and all of my failures, my missed opportunities, my bold declarations, even my blunders and bloopers...the outtakes and the deleted scenes…a rare and privileged look behind the screen of Philly Trees.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

WILLOW COUNTRY: THE COBBS CREEK WATERSHED



Philadelphia is currently coasting, in the most pleasant way, straight into a breezy and brisk autumn.  Tricky Coyote is making his long retreat into the woods and Brother Grizzly will soon take over the moons, one final burst of food and action before the long, sleepy winter.

The fall is all about movement, all about dropping.  You can hear it happening as you walk down the streets.  Acorns are falling.  The sky is falling, too, earlier and earlier.  Sycamore branches are breaking.  Chestnuts are splitting.  The leaves will soon drop.  The temperatures too.  Ducks and birds will fly away as others stop by on their marathon migration.  Same with the monarch butterfly.  Any day now, the burst of autumn colors will be lighting up the Philly treeline and this blog will be busy, busy, busy.

Flowers, fruits and then leaves…another spectacular show is only a few weeks away from its opening notes.

And yet, as it always does during this time of year, my thoughts and meanderings take a ruminative and macabre turn.


You see, two years ago, at around this time, I was stung by a yellow jacket while camping and, unaware that I was allergic, I soon went into anaphylactic shock and, soon after that, I was knocking on heaven’s door.

Three things saved my life.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

THE HARVEST MOON: PUTTING ON THE POUNDS



It’s been about three weeks since my last post.

What have I been doing?

I guess it’s time to come clean.

It always happens at this time of year and yet, even though it happens at the same time every year, it always seems to come as a surprise.

One day, you wake up, same as usual…you have the standard breakfast of coffee and a breath mint…you find your cleanest dirty shirt, you check the farmers’ almanac, you hit the day and then you look down and…well, there it is. 

Citybillies, I done got fat.


It wasn’t my fault.  It was Coyote.  Coyote did it…him and his last moon, this Harvest Moon. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

NORTH BY NORTHWEST: BLOCKBUSTER TREES


Contrary to popular belief, I have a lot more interests than just trees.

Okay, ladies?  I’m not just all about trees.

I got a lot of passions.  I got a lot of interests.  I’m smart.  I can do things.

My other passions?  I like my sports.  I like my cars.  My favorite car company?  Pontiac.  After all, the real Pontiac was an Ottawa chieftain from the Great Lakes who led an unsuccessful revolt against the British in 1763.  Hey, I like to do a lot of things.  Restaurants, bars, museums, art galleries, used bookstores?  Let’s go.  I read a lot of novels.  I especially like dark science fiction, hard-boiled crime stories and violent westerns.  I like going out.  I like fine California wine, good Pennsylvania canned beer and bourbon.  Ah, bourbon.  That’s how you say Kentucky in whiskey.

I’m also a movie buff.  I love the movies…and that’s why I am shocked – shocked – at the radical change that just happened with the newest Sight & Sound list of the greatest movies of all time. 

Every ten years, the British cinema magazine, Sight & Sound, mails the voting ballots to movie critics and filmmakers all around the world, asking them all the same question: What is the greatest movie of all time?

Since 1962, Citizen Kane has remained at the top of the list…until now. 

The newest greatest movie of all time?  Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 psychological San Francisco thriller, Vertigo.

I never thought I’d see the day.

It reminds me of the famous Native American Zen story…the one where the Great Chief assembles all of Turtle Island’s wise men together in one place and demands, from all of them, that they solve this profound puzzle: invent a sentence that will be true and appropriate for all times.

Their final answer: And this too shall someday pass.

It's true.  The only constant is change.  Everything is fleeting, everything is temporal, nothing remains the same.  Down here in the mean streets of Philly, we say it like this: you can’t be king forever.

And so, in 2012, Citizen Kane slips down a notch to number two and Vertigo takes the coveted catbird seat at the top of the Sight & Sound greatest movies list.

It is a great movie, full of twists and turns…and I’m not just talking about the city streets of San Francisco where it was filmed.

My favorite part?  When Scottie, played by Jimmy Stewart, takes the blonde enigma Madeleine to the redwoods forest on a dark and gloomy afternoon.


This scene was actually filmed in the Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz.  During that pivotal scene, Scottie shows Madeleine the exhibit of a giant cross-section of a redwood and has this meaningful, puzzling exchange:

Scottie: What are you thinking?
Madeleine: Of all the people who’ve been born and have died while the trees went on living.
Scottie: Their true name is Sequoia sempervirens…‘always green, always living.’


Then, Madeleine points to the concentric rings in the wood and, speaking to the tree itself, says: Somewhere in here, I was born.  And there I died.  It was only a moment for you.  You took no notice.

Pure.  Movie.  Magic.

GREATEST TREES IN CINEMA HISTORY

People are always asking me: Jon Spruce, what are the five most famous trees in cinema history?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

BLUE MOON TREE HUNTS


The year 2012 will go down in history as the year of broken records.

I’m not talking about the Olympics.  I’m talking about the weather.

The long-awaited annual report from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration was finally released and, to no one’s great surprise, it’s official: last July was the hottest month on record for the continental United States.

The previous record holder?  July 1936, the heart of the Dust Bowl era.

For 32 states, last July now ranks as one of their top ten hottest months ever. 

Remember that warm winter?  Well, consider another record broken, a record that’s stood for the last 117 years.  It’s been the warmest 12-month period in the United States since 1895.

Records are shattering all over the country.

Oklahoma has been suffering a heat wave that has lasted over 20 days.  Iowa had ten days in July of triple-digit heat…and that’s a state where they average only one of those days per year. Denver also has an average of one day of 100-plus temperatures per year.  Last month, seven Denver days went over 100-degrees, making July 2012 their hottest month ever…and that’s after suffering through their hottest June ever, back to back record-breaking months.  Remember July 7th?  You’d remember if you lived in Indianapolis.  That turned out to be their hottest day in history.  And Wisconsin?  They normally get seventeen days of 90-degree weather for the entire year…and one day of triple-digit heat every two years.  This last July?  It was all sizzle.  Seventeen days of 90-degree heat and three days when it broke over 100-degrees.  That’s an unbelievable anomaly.  Hottest month ever.  It’s not even a competition.

And for Philadelphia?  We fall right in line.  It’s been an average of three degrees warmer for the last twelve months and, for July 2012, it was an average of four degrees hotter, breaking the record for our hottest month ever.  Our previous record holder?  July 1947.

So take your place on the pedestal, July 2012.  The gold medal goes to you…and, thank Coyote, it’s over and done with…July 2012 is officially history.

Stay strong, citybillies.  The endless summer is almost ending…and, if you know your trees and plants, you’ll be able to see the signs of cooler weather even sooner than most.

One sign of the impending fall?  The sunflowers are starting to droop down, dry up and close.


Do you need some hope from the heat?  Then just pay attention to the trees. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

THE NOTORIOUS TREE HOUSE OF FELTONVILLE


Just the other evening, I was out tree-hunting in West Philly.  It was blazing hot, steamy and sticky, so I headed to Clark Park.  I wanted to catch some shade.  I wanted to cool off and I wanted to spend the last few hours of the day watching one of my favorite oaks in the entire city.

On my way through the park, I noticed that one of the recent thunderstorms had split a branch off a yellowwood tree.


Ever wonder why it’s called a yellowwood?  Well, here’s your answer:



















The oak tree that I was hunting was on the other side of the park.  It’s really one of my favorite oaks in the city.  I love the way it leans over the grassy bowl.  On this particular night, the leaning oak was the setting for a Shakespeare in the Park rendition of The Merry Wives of Windsor.


William Shakespeare was, like many artists, a romantic fan of trees and flowers, plants and herbs, nature and the wilds.  Who can forget the bloody climax of Macbeth…when Thane Macduff disguises his army as trees so they can secretly advance upon the murderous Macbeth’s castle, inspiring my favorite Shakespeare quote of all time:


I, too, have seen the woods move.

So, there I was, enjoying the oak, enjoying the shade, enjoying the Shakespeare…finally cooling off, just getting used to the Old English…when my cellphone started blowing up with voicemails and text messages, all saying the same thing: Jon Spruce, turn on the local news.  There’s a tree attacking a house in the Northeast.

I need a vacation.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

THE SASQUATCH TREE


Hot enough for you?

Ain’t that just like Coyote?   Ain’t that just like the Strong Sun Moon?   

Blasting that unbearable, that stifling, that maddening heat just when you were on a roll.  Makes you want to just sit at home in air-conditioning and watch bad TV and bad baseball. Just when the days get long, just when the shore opens, just when the trees are bearing all that fruit, just when the local farmers’ markets are bedecked and bedizened with all that summer bounty.

Including the heirloom tomato, one of the greatest foods of all time… 


…and I do mean all time.  Although this is relatively a new food on the farm stand scene, it’s actually been around for a long, long time.   

This is, by anybody’s standard, an old food.

According to the farmer’s almanac, the first of the tomatoes are normally ready by the first full moon of July, usually by the rising of the next moon of the cycle: the Ripe Berries Moon.  That makes sense. 

After all, the tomato is, technically, just a giant berry.

But this abnormal heat – this gut-wrenching, sweat-pumping, underwear-clumping heat -- has launched tomato season a week or so ahead of schedule.


Ain’t that just like Coyote?

I’m not complaining.  Citybillies, take Jon Spruce’s advice: get your hands on some local 2012 heirloom tomatoes.  If there’s one thing out there enjoying this heat, it’s a tomato.

I even got a recipe for you.  Fry up two slices of bread, preferably sourdough bread.  Schmear on a guilt-free layer of mayonnaise.  Add thick slices of ripe tomato.  Sprinkle on some good salt.  Eat over the sink, alone.

The heirloom tomato is, without question, the greatest comeback ever in the long, troubled history of grocery.  Back when it was first marketed to restaurants and to grocery stores, it went under the name of ugly tomato.  It was the corporate way of explaining to the paying public that these tomatoes were supposed to be wrinkled, cracked, scarred, misshapen and, even, ripe when green, orange or yellow. 

Only years later did they start selling it under the more distinguished name of heirloom.

Yes, after years and years of subjecting the public to the year-long, season-defying crops of perfect, consistent, bland, dry, tasteless tomatoes, the Big Ag marketers had to re-educate us on the old-ways lesson that, in the wild, things sometimes get a little ugly.

Does this look ugly to you?


Each tomato is like its own little starburst.  Each one is like a little sun.  The best part?  Although you can tell which tomatoes are the same kinds of tomatoes, each one has its own rays of colors, its own patterns of wrinkles, its own carousel of flavors.


The tomato as an individual.  Sorry to say, but it’s a 21st Century Concept.

Well, more accurately, it’s a 21st Century Comeback.

These tomatoes hearken back to the good old days, before that large-scaled, mass-produced onslaught of big, red, perfect tomatoes, available year-round, bombarded the produce departments of nation-wide supermarkets.  Before the invention of refrigerated tractor trailers.  I don’t even understand why anybody even serves tomatoes outside of Coyote’s moons.  I’m talking to you, all you sandwich and hoagie shop managers.

More accurately, though, these tomatoes hearken back to the ancient farmers of South America and Mexico, the first civilizations to propagate the modern tomato.  From what we are told of heirloom varieties and seeds, these are the descendants of the kinds of tomatoes that people used to enjoy hundreds of years ago, going back to 700 AD.

Their return to our world of grocery and farm stands is a gift from the Old World, a true and treasured heirloom.



There are some trees that can also be considered heirlooms. 

Even though they may now be common all over our city grid, there are some trees that had disappeared for eons but have returned to our modern world.

Heirloom trees.

These trees hearken back to the Old Days, to the wild back-wood groves of colonial country or, even further back, to the very first days of trees themselves, to the primordial soup that bedecked and bedizened the landscapes of the super-continent we call Pangaea.

People are always asking me: Jon Spruce, if you had a time machine, where would you go?

The answer is Pangaea.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

MY COUNTRY, TIS OF TREE


Happy Independence Day, Philadelphia and all of its trees.  I’ll try to take a break from all that Original People mumbo-jumbo and spend a day celebrating the totems of the United States of America.

The national animal?  The bald eagle, although a case could be made for other native animals: the beaver, the bison, the shad, the crayfish, the painted turtle or the moose.

The national flower?  The rose.  That’s a little disappointing.  There are a lot of reasons why it could be the marigold, the dandelion, the prairie rose, the yucca flower or actually the sunflower, one of the few flowers native only to this Turtle Island.


The national tree?  Officially the oak.  Another disappointment.  How about something very specialized to America, something akin to Turtle Island: the sequoia, the tulip poplar, the ponderosa pine, the southern live oak, the Joshua tree, the bristlecone pine or the saguaro cactus?

Well, you can’t say I didn’t try. 

And the national colors?  The red, white and blue?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just that we’re in the heart of the Strong Sun Moon, but I am enchanted and bedazzled by so many more colors than just those three.

There is no scientific basis for the following statement but I am going to say it anyway: it takes a real strong sun and a real high heat to brew all that summer color.  The first colors of the year are usually white, red, yellow and, of course, green…but, by the time we get to the Strong Sun Moon, we get the oranges, the blues and the purples, plus all the different shades and blushes of the original colors: the pinks, the crimsons and the jades.  In the summer, we go all the way around the color wheel. 

I believe, just on a gut instinct, that it simply takes longer for the trees and plants to produce those complicated colors than it does the reds and whites and greens.  But, like I said, I have no basis to believe that it’s true.

Except for my own eyes, of course.  Here is a typical farmstand in the very beginning of the Hardy Zone Seven growing season, mid-May:


And here are some farmstands in the heart of the Strong Sun Moon:


 














 

















It’s just a theory but I’m saying that it takes more time, more sun and more heat to make all that color.   Although, come to think of it, the rainbow swiss chard kind of destroys that theory. 

Well, you can’t say I didn’t try.  Let’s move on.  Let’s go downtown to historical Philadelphia, see what the trees are doing over there.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

QUICK PICKS: THREE TREES


An average weekday in June, sun setting at 9:00pm, a quiet night at home, waiting for the rice to cool off, waiting for the thunderstorm to break, waiting for Cliff Lee’s first win, just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, ladies…and I make the heart-breaking mistake of delving into the photo archives to look at tree-pictures I never posted.

What happened?

There are just too many trees and not enough time.

Out there on the mean streets, I always end up running into trees that don’t quite fit into my planned posts. 

I mean, I’ve missed a lot of great trees. 

The yellowwood and the black locust?   



















Never got around to writing about that deep-ridged bark.  Never got around to describing their brief spell of dangling flowers in mid-spring, though I have loads of pictures.

Honey-suckle and fringe trees?   

Yeah, I missed that boat too…although even their pretty pictures can’t capture the spring breezes that always belied their presence, wafts of honey out of the corner of your eye.

The horse chestnut?  Now, that’s a big regret.   



















What a spectacular miss.  It’s got everything I’m looking for in a tree.  Droopy branches.  Big-fisted, tear-drop leaves.  Bright steeples of spring flowers just popping out of the green. 

What happened, Jon Spruce?  I was busy, horse chesnut.  Busy and lazy.

Well, I won’t make the same mistake this time.  Here are three quick sketches of three notable trees…trees I just can’t watch pass by.