Wednesday, April 25, 2012


People are always asking me: Jon Spruce, how would you define ‘nature’ using only one word?

One word?  That’s easy.  Patterns.  The one word is patterns.

If you said cycles, I wouldn’t kick you out of the cabin.  That’s an excellent word to describe nature but I can’t see nature's cycles in my lifetime and I certainly can’t see them tree-hunting on these city streets. 

When I stare into the shaman’s fire and think in terms of nature’s endless cycles, I see images of Pangaea dispersing into continents, India crashing into China, dinosaurs surviving as birds, ice ages melting into rainforests, magma rocks building sedimentary shelves, underwater volcanoes sprouting sandy islands, drought and rain burying fossils, a 2.5-inch cone that I can squeeze between my fingers growing into the California Bigtree we call Sequoia and, above it all, the milky cloud-cover spinning forever around our blue planet.  And moss.  Lots of moss.

I’ll stick with patterns.  When I’m out tree-hunting, I’m looking for patterns.  The patterns help me identify the tree.   

Maybe it’s the way the branches are growing – opposite or alternate?  Maybe it’s the pattern of leaf shapes and sizes.  It could be the bark or the fruit.  If I can recognize the pattern that the tree is growing into, then I got a good shot at putting that tree into a family or a group, one step closer to knowing its name.     

Patterns in trees.

I’ll show you what I mean.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


The best part about spring is its inconsistency. 

Summer is one long battery of heat, sun, sweat and glare.  The best part of summer is walking into air-conditioning and peaches. 

Winter? I actually enjoy winter, but I admit that it’s just one long onslaught of cold, moon, ice and snow.  The best part of winter is apple cider and wearing long johns.

When it comes to weather though, I’ll take the eager spring and its seasonal shadow, autumn, any time. This is my kind of life, this weather.  It’s inconsistent, contrary, capricious and spontaneous. 

Winter?  You know it’s cold.  Summer?  You know it’s hot.  Spring and autumn?  You better just follow the advice of Bob Dylan, America’s greatest weatherman: You want to know the weather?  Open up the window and stick your head outside.

One day, it’s hot and sunny.  The next day, it’s cold and drizzly.  That’s nice.  I like it when it takes two attempts to walk out the door for the day.  I never get the right clothes on the first time around.

Here in the Lenapehanna Delaware River Watershed, we’re only two or three day away from the next spring moon…it all depends on the frogs.  It’s been a good moon, full of flowers and adventure, but I wanted to get one more good tree-hunt done before the next rising.

Something special.  Something rare.  Something out of the ordinary.  This is going to get a little nerdy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


The other day, I was snaking my way through the streets of South Philly, trying to avoid baseball traffic on my way back to the rat-race of Center City.  It was, typical for this week, sunny and brisk, clear and windy.

I ended up on Ninth Street, heading north, ballgame on the radio.  Stop signs on every corner kept me moving at a snail’s pace, the perfect speed for urban tree-hunting.

I might as well have been hunting underwater.  


This part of South Philly is an urban tundra, as treeless as a clear-cut, unwooded, unshaded and unseasoned.  Lately, all over the city, I’ve been breezing around, absolutely bedazzled by the budding trees and leafing branches, spinning in circles trying to catch all the colors like I was trapped in a kaleidoscope. 

Then this.