Sunday, August 19, 2012


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.


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

Thursday, August 9, 2012


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.