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I suppose everyone has a favorite tree. Mine as a child was an elm, the only tree in our backyard, that had a thick, sturdy branch just low enough for kids to jump off into a pile of fall leaves. We’re blessed with a number of trees in our yard in the Philadelphia suburbs, but none as memorable as that elm. The tree with the prettiest leaves in our area is the tulip poplar– the leaves are like miniature fleurs-de-lis and cascade down from the tree’s crown– but we have to walk a few blocks to see one.

If I had to name my least favorite tree in our yard, I might well have settled on a tall, crooked, scraggly pine tree that stood squarely in the middle of our view as we looked out from our screened in back porch.

I say “stood” rather than “stands” because it was struck by lightning several weeks ago, sheered almost in half. We were tempted to leave it standing, a twenty foot high trunk with a dramatic, creamy white gash, as a symbol of– I’m not sure what, perhaps man’s capacity to annoy his neighbors. But in the end, we hired a tree guy to grind it into a mound of fragrant, pine-scented chips.

And then a funny thing happened: I started to miss the scraggly old pine. I realized what a nice contrast it had been to the silvery blue greens of a nearby spruce, and how it had framed the western sky, not to mention blocking part of our view of a neighbor’s roof.

I happen to be thinking about trees (and the tree guy motif) because of a wonderful article by Alan Jacobs on the cover of the current issue of Books & Culture: A Christian Review. Articles like this– quirky, irresistible– are one of the many reasons that Books & Culture is such a wonderful magazine. I’m not exactly objective– I’ve written a number of reviews for Books & Culture myself– but if you’ve never taken a look, the Jacobs article is a great place to start.


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