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.
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.
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 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!