Wednesday 25 September 2013

The Sassafras Tree

     I am always sorry to witness the loss of a tree and in my lifetime there has been plenty to witness.  I didn't really have any relationship to most of those trees, they were just trees I was used to seeing, then suddenly they were gone.  The old sassafras tree that grew on the edge of the woods by the field was different.
     At one point in my adolescence, way back in the early 1960's, I saw a gymnast on TV performing
on the rings.  I decided that I wanted to do that, so I in a typical  adolescent fashion of rigging things up and thinking they would work, I found a very thin set of rings from a child's swing set, wrapped them with electrical tape to make them thicker, and then looked around for someplace to hang them.
     The only place I found that might work was a horizontal limb from the sassafras tree.  It was extremely difficult to tie the rings on two pieces of rope and get them to hang at exactly the same height.  
     Once I got them sort of at the same height, I was ready to try them out.  The branch of the tree held,  the ropes didn't break, but there was one problem:  Even with the rings wrapped with the tape, they really cut in and hurt my hands when I was hanging on them and trying to hold myself on the rings with my arms outstretched.  The pain in my hands quickly dampened and killed my dream of becoming a gymnast on the rings.
     Despite the career killing experience, I always felt some special kinship to the sassafras tree.  I knew that they are not really long living trees, but during the past 40 years, during my yearly visits to Indiana, it seemed to be still holding on.  This trip, I was saddened to see that it was dead.  In the photo you can see its naked branches sticking out above a cluster of grapevine leaves that are still green and healthy.
     For those of you who are not familiar with sassafras trees, it is an unusual tree because each tree displays three differently shaped leaves.  There is a wide blade-shaped leaf, a mitten-shaped leaf, and a mitten-with-two-thumbs-(one on each side)-shaped leaf.  The roots were used to make root beer (and they smell like the root beer tastes,) but then scientist discovered they were carcinogenic, and banned their use in the drink.

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