Wednesday, December 25, 2013


It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees…Joni Mitchell

Don’t you wish every morning could be like Christmas morning?

T’is the season…waking up in the cozy warmth of a comfy bed, the birds singing in the bare branches outside the urban cabin window, the weather brisk and frosty…the beginning of the season of the evergreens, the Long Snow Moon still hovering in the cold, cloud-bare sky.

Nothing like jumping out of bed on Christmas morning.

I know many people use this morning to linger around the house, clad in pajamas and wool socks, big mugs of hot coffee in their hands, lounging on the couches, but like most procrastinators, I had a busy morning ahead of me.

I couldn’t put it off any longer so I headed down to Center City, to Love Park’s annual Christmas Village, for a little last minute holiday shopping.

Oh no.

What happened?

The place was deserted, all locked up, not a single soul in sight…

…not even the faintest sound of cheer or music.

Where was I going to get all my trinkets and knick-knacks? 

Where was I supposed to buy my giant chocolate Santa? 

How was I supposed to decorate the interior landscape of my urban cabin if all the shops are closed?

Where did Christmas go?

Mom, this time it’s not my fault.

Perhaps I could salvage some part of the holiday.  Around the corner, on the west side of the park, there were still Christmas trees lined up along the walkway…

…ye olde favorites like the noble fir and the Alberta spruce but nobody was scheduled this morning to sell me a tree.

I guess they overslept, just my luck.

On the ground at the end of the row, I saw evidence of the feeding frenzy that I must’ve missed…

…scatterings of fir branches frosted to the mud.

Unlike the spruce, the fir grows its green needles in a flat spray along the branches, much like a comb, bluish-white stripes on the underside…

…sold here, four dollars a bundle, if anyone was here, that is, to take my money and save my holiday.

Oh well.  The season is long, the winter has just begun and it’s like Thoreau once said: there’s always next year.

He must’ve said that once in his life.


Around this time every year, I am reminded that I missed my true calling in life.

It’s my one big regret.

If I could do it all over again, I would’ve pursued a different, more lucrative career.

I’d be an agent.

My dream client?  That’s easy.

That’d be the evergreens.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


People are always asking me: Hey, Jon Spruce, do you wanna hang out?

Sometimes I take the bait. 

Contrary to popular belief, sometimes I do enjoy the sights and sounds of polite society.  It’s fun, sometimes, to take a break from the solitary sport of tree-hunting, to spend some precious moments, inside, deep in conversation and company.

Sometimes even the lone wolf comes in from the cold.

But not today.

No time, my friends.

Hold the calls and get out of my way, it’s that time of year again.

According to the scuttle bucket, the ballots are counted, the results are in and, sure enough, there it was, waiting for me when I got home.

The annual best-of issue of Tree Hunting Magazine.

No.  Not again.

What kind of cruel joke is this?

Our 2013 champion?  None other than my old nemesis, Giovanni Arboles, also known as Joey Trees, the self-proclaimed Master of Disguise…

…but, sometimes behind his back, we call him King of the Selfies.

It just ain’t fair.

He already won last year, for that time he caught both a champion ponderosa pine…

…and a bristlecone pine, what’s known as the oldest living thing on the planet.

All in the same hunt.

Yeah right.

Boy, this magazine is really going south. 

It used to really be about something.  It used to really be about tree-hunting.

Now it’s all about selling more issues.  It’s all about who you know.  It’s all right place, right time.

Joey Trees?  Two years in a row? 

Say it ain’t so.

According to this issue, he won the 2013 title because he caught, all the way back in February, the biggest blizzard to hit southern Arizona in the last ten years…

…one full inch of snow.

Lucky skunk.

And another thing, when was the last time an urban tree-hunter was named the champion?  I can’t even remember, it’s been so long.   

Every year, the title ends up going to some bumpkin in a Jeep.

It’s the same old story: the country mouse versus the city rat.

It’s not a fair fight.

Country yokels like Joey Trees already have the advantage. 

It’s a simple matter of geography.

They get all that open space and all that open road.  They get to go hunting in all that dramatic nature. 

Every tree out there is at home and native, nothing planted by some City Planning Bureau or through some nameless Street Department, no trees selected by committee.

Nothing but country.

Look at that.  No one-way streets.  No parking tickets.  No infrastructure.  No traffic.  No loud music or angry crowds scaring away all the good trees.

Well shiver me timbers, Joe, there sure are a lot of big trees out there in the country.
Whatever.  Don’t stop the presses.

Man, I was fired up.

Normally, I’m calm and collective, cool as a cucumber, but at that moment, I was engulfed in fit and fury, that old mule kicking in my stall.

I had just about enough of all the Joey Trees out there, living it up on easy street, basking away in the wide open country life.

Bunch of peacocks.

It’s not hard to catch a good tree in the country.  Takes about as much skill as catching a suntan.

Bunch of tenderfoots.

Only one thing left to do.

Get. Me. My. List.

Like most tree-hunters, I keep a list of trees handy…

…a wish list, really, of all the trees that I’d like to catch one day.

Let’s see what I haven’t crossed off yet.

There’s the hemlock and the holly, two evergreens that I’ve always pushed off till winter.  Still got time for those.   

There’s something called the bladdernut but I’ve never been able to track that one down. 

There’s the black locust, but darn it, that’s always been a spring tree for me. 

Palm trees?  But are there any palm trees in Philadelphia?

Hold your horses…right there on the bottom of my list.

The pawpaw.

The largest edible fruit native to Turtle Island.

The only tropical fruit that grows this far north.

It goes by many names: the poor man’s banana, the prairie banana and, in some deep corners of the continent, it’s known as the banango…a favorite dessert of George Washington, a manna in the wilderness for Lewis & Clark, as they wrote in their journal: subsisting on poppaws.

The pawpaw is no stranger to these parts.

Supposedly there’s a pawpaw patch right here in Philadelphia, in the Northeast, right along the shores of the Pennypack Creek.

This is it…a tree-hunt that would rival any adventure out there in the country…fire up the engine and eat my dust…

…Jon Spruce is on the move, fame and fortune and all that jazz just one autumn afternoon away…to the largest, most storied stretch of woods in the entire city, to the Northeast, to the Pennypack Creek…

…like the old folk song says, way down yonder in the pawpaw patch!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Now, where was I?

That’s right, it’s autumn here in Philadelphia.

Now, how does that quote go again, the one about autumn?  Think, Jon Spruce.  Who was it again?

That’s right, it was Albert Camus, the French philosopher.  Now, he was an absurdist but don’t worry, Donny, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Every now and then, even an absurdist is worth listening to.

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf’s a flower.

Zut alors!  He was right.

Season of the tawny dawn, season of the rustic twilight, the brisk walk…

…the green world’s final curtain call.

Now, Jon Spruce, pay attention.

This is how it turns.  This is how it falls.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I got a bad feeling about this.

I was climbing down the rocky slopes towards the Catfish Creek when I caught sight of this brown pod…

…attached to a branch of that scrub chestnut oak.

It just plucked off, right into my hand, a snap of the fingers.

It had almost no weight to it.  I carried it in a loose fist towards the beach…

…and laid it out on the big rock for a little alien autopsy.

I’m not at all qualified to do this.

My first instinct?  This must be some sort of fungus or mold, not the most intelligent of life-forms but one that fills a very important niche here in the forest biome.

Fungus is actually how the trees communicate with each other.

It’s true.

Alerted to pests or diseases, even bad weather or fire, the trees will pump out chemicals into the ground, signals to other trees.

The fungus is able to pick up these messages and send them through their wires to the next tree…

…an underground and undercover communication grid that connects root to root, the fungus playing the role of the long-distance operator.

It’s happening right below my boots and yet I can’t see it, can’t hear it, can’t feel it no matter how hard I try.

I have to admit I was a little jealous.

So the trees can talk to each other?  They just won’t talk to me.

Is it too much to ask for a simple hello?  After all we’ve been through together?

The answer, for the time being, is no.

But maybe inside this pod…

…I can catch some sort of signal, some sort of contact.  Maybe there is some message, once intercepted, that can crack the code.

The Rosetta Stone of tree-talk.  It could be right there under my knife, a discovery that would secure Jon Spruce’s place in the pantheon of champion tree-hunters.

First man to talk tree.

But, like I said, I got a bad feeling about this.

I hate it when I’m right.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Awakening this morning from uneasy dreams, I realized that I had the whole day to myself, no promises, no obligations, no errands, no dues.

Ah, summer.

So, like most people with a summer day to burn, I went down to the beach…

…to the banks of the Schuylkill River to catch some rays, a new paperback in hand.

It was a typical day under the Ripe Berry Moon, although a little bit cooler than usual for this time of year, not something I’m complaining about.

The sunshine glared off the muddy shore, lighting up every little pebble, every half-buried rock, every stray two-by-four and soda can washed ashore.  The wind was blowing both jasmine and diesel, pulling the waves towards the beach on a string.

And the best part?  I was entirely alone. 

Unlike most beaches, this was a secluded place away from the noisy masses, a hidden cove.

Next to me, there was a large patch of high plants, no idea what they’re called.

I usually don’t like sitting so close to strangers but, to be honest, they didn’t look very friendly or inviting…

…those puckered mouthpieces inching their way towards me and my summer repose.

Unable to resist, I did grab one of those gaping maws and pulled back the thick lip of leaves…

…only to reveal the cranks and gears of their peculiar engineering.

Such odd parts…but, then again, I’m sure if something ripped open my own fleshy envelope, it would also reveal some odd parts, a strange system of beating sprockets and mammalian machines.

Those tangled stalks dominated half the beach here and seemed to catch the entire spectrum of Philly’s flotsam and jetsam: beer cans, plastic bags, trash and refuse and litter, two car batteries and one dead, bloated fish.

Warning: August is not for the squeamish.

This is Nature’s most efficient season, when it’s at its reddest in tooth and claw, the hunter and the hunted dancing around the arena of Survival, the predator and the prey in high pursuit, life and death around every bend in the trail.  

The most dangerous of hunger games.

The Wheel right now is cranking away at a breakneck speed, around and around the lifeless Void that lies at the very center of its heartless hub.

Ah, summer.

Do or die. 

It’s a cold thought for a summer day and I shouldn’t let one patch of unfriendly plants, and one dead fish, ruin my summer day at the beach, or ruin the experience of sinking into the curious novel I found stacked away at a local used book store.

It was love at first sight.


On an alien world, a bizarre and intelligent plant offers more than just companionship…Strange Relations.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


It’s a jungle out there.

The city is stewing.  The streets are roasting.  The roof is on fire. 

Baby, it’s hot outside, during these final days of the Strong Sun Moon.

Citybillies, take cover wherever you can.

This is not my weather of choice, this is not my season.  After all, I am an Elk of the Thunderbird Clan, born under the Long Snow Moon of mid-Decembertime, but I refuse to stay inside.

Can’t let this brutal heat wave keep me off these scorching streets and away from those steamy woods, still lots to catch and hunt.

Nice try, Coyote.

Windows down and sunglasses on, I’m going out, through the swelter and into the sizzle, head-first into the fever.

Gotta love the burn.

This might make me sound like a glutton for punishment but I’m going straight for it.  I’m going hunting for the highest, hottest totem of this season.

Set the controls for the heart of the sun.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


It’s Independence Day Weekend here in Philadelphia.  What a fine time to be in the city.

Block parties and live music, barbecues and picnics, burgers and ice cream, sparklers and fireworks, road-blocks and detours, this city truly lives up to the standards and expectations of Founding Farmer John Adams, who once wrote that Independence Day ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade…

…with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Well, actually, he always thought it should be celebrated on the Second of July.

Sorry, old man.

In the Fourth we trust…a celebration of the tried and true totems of American history: the bald eagle and the buffalo, Yankee Doodle and Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty…

…the light bulb and the television and the arcade game, the steamship and the automobile and the space shuttle, the pioneer and the cowboy and the rock star…


…and that Old Glory herself…

…that grand old flag we call the Stars and Stripes.

In the spirit of Independence Day, I made a quick pit-stop to pay my respects to our most famous seamstress, Betsy Ross.

She’s buried, right there in Olde City, at 2nd and Old Sassafras Streets, underneath that monumental American elm…

…rocketing over the colonial courtyard, bursting with heavy branches high up in the muggy Coyote sky.

Or, at least, we’re told that she’s buried here.

It turns out that Betsy Ross’s funeral was held on 5th Street.  Twenty years later, her body was exhumed and moved to the now abandoned Mount Moriah Cemetery near Cobbs Creek in West Philly…

…and then, just in time for the Bicentennial of 1976, her body was moved again to this half-museum-half-gift-shop restoration, to be closer to the parade of her colonial brothers and sisters.


Or was she?

Rumor has it that, back in 1975, her gravediggers found no bodily remains under her tombstone there in Mount Moriah. 

Only a few bones, found elsewhere in the family plot, were hastily authenticated as Betsy Ross’s and moved to this courtyard…

...just in time for the opening of the Betsy Ross Bridge in 1976.

It doesn’t matter.


Like we say here in America, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

And so the legend stands.

She’s buried here, First Seamstress of the United States, the beautiful and noble widow who made, with her own blistered hands, the very first version of the American Flag.

Or did she?