Monday, May 27, 2013


I grew up in this house.

This isn’t a particularly original thought but, boy, it sure looks a lot smaller than I remember. 

It just seems too small to house all those memories, all those holidays, all those meals, all those toys and all those birthdays…and it doesn’t look big enough to contain the big family that used to call it home…one happy couple, one beatnik sister and five rambunctious boys, including one future champion tree-hunter.

It’s also missing some trees.

There used to be larger roses and more evergreen shrubs guarding the walkway to the front door.  There used to be a dwarf pear tree and a rose of sharon on the driveway side of the house.

On the other side of the house, there used to be a sour cherry tree. 

At the end of long summer days, I would cool down under the sour cherry tree with the Lippincott brothers and we would throw our pits over the fence into the neighbor’s in-ground pool, sorry about that.

I found an old photo of the house and that’s when I remembered another tree, now missing…

…that tall Norway spruce rubbing up against the side of my childhood home.

These are the trees of my past…the trees of yore…the phantom trees that can no longer be found except in old photographs and fading memories…happy Memorial Day, citybillies.

Contrary to popular belief, trees do go missing.  I wish they wouldn’t move around so much but they do.  They come and then they go.

Philadelphia, too, is haunted by its own host of missing trees, none more famous than the Great Elm of Shackamaxon.


Shackamaxon was the name of the Lenape village located right here along the Delaware River within the borders of the Philadelphia charter, in the neighborhoods currently called Port Richmond and Fishtown.

According to a few histories, Shackamaxon was the capital of the Lenape nation and the seat of power for the chief of the Turtle Clan.

In the village of Shackamaxon, there was a great elm.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


People are always asking me…well, they’re always asking me everything.

It’s true.

Every week, my mailbox spills over with letters from the fans of Philly Trees, messages from old friends, invitations for speaking engagements, requests for magazine articles, pre-approved applications for money laundering schemes and correspondences from citybillies all over Turtle Island.

So, on a particularly overcast and drizzly day, I spent the early evening sifting through the mountain of mail, answering all the burning questions sent to me from the small tribe of tree-hunters trying to make sense of this bountiful, generous, cryptic mother we call Nature.

Here’s a letter…from a Troy A. Hamilton of Marlton, New Jersey, just on the other side of the Delaware River.

Judging from the handwriting, Troy is a young buck of a student, probably one of the many fearless, scrappy Jersey devils just trying to find his footing in the humdrum rat-race of monotonous suburbia. 

Troy, I know how it feels.

I just love receiving this kind of fan mail. 

When I was a kid, I was guilty, too, of writing letters to the celebrities that really touched my spirit and fueled my inspirations, local heroes like Jim Gardner and Charles Barkley and national icons like John Glenn and George Lucas. 

And look at me now, on the other end of the fan mail cycle.

What’s that quote from Charles Fort?

You measure a circle beginning anywhere.

Looking a little closer at the handwriting, little Troy seems to be struggling with the subjects of English and Composition…but let’s see what urgent mystery young Troy is asking old Jon Spruce to solve.

Hey, Jon Spruce, my teacher made us read your blog for class.  It sucks!  Who cares what a leaf looks like.  Not me.  But I have to right a report for class about a kind of tree.  I dont care which one you pick. 

PS Nice hat dork!

Let’s pick another letter in this pile.

This one is anonymous, that’s strange.

Dear Jon Spruce, is this blog making you any money?

Real funny, Dad.

Is there a serious question here or what?

Okay, here’s one...from a local Fishtown fan.