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Among the Trees at Elmridge online

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On that bright spring afternoon when three happy, interested children
went off to the woods with their governess to take their first lesson in
the study of wild flowers, they saw also some other things which made a
fresh series of "Elmridge Talks," and these things were found among the
trees of the roadside and forest.

"What makes it look so _yellow_ over there, Miss Harson?" asked Clara,
who was peering curiously at a clump of trees that seemed to have been
touched with gold or sunlight. "And just look over here," she continued,
"at these pink ones!"

Malcolm shouted at the idea:

"Yellow and pink trees! That sounds like a Japanese fan. Where are they,
I should like to know?"

"Here, you perverse boy!" said his governess as she laughingly turned
him around. "Are you looking up into the sky for them? There is a clump
of golden willows right before you, with some rosy maples on one side.
What other colors can you call them?"

Malcolm had to confess that "yellow and pink trees" were not so wide of
the mark, after all, and that they were very pretty. Little Edith was
particularly delighted with them, and wanted to "pick the flowers"

"They are too high for that, dear," was the reply, "and these
blossoms - for that is what they really are, although nothing more than
fringes and catkins - are much prettier massed on the trees than they
would be if gathered. The still-bare twigs and branches seem, as you
see, to be draped with golden and rose-colored veils, but there will be
no leaves until these queer flowers have dropped. If we look closely at
the twigs and branches, we shall see that they are glossy and polished,
as though they had been varnished and then brightened with color by the
painter's brush. It is the flowing of the sap that does this. The
swelling of the bark occasioned by the flow of sap gives the whole mass
a livelier hue; hence the ashen green of the poplar, the golden green of
the willow and the dark crimson of the peach tree, the wild rose and the
red osier are perceptibly heightened by the first warm days of spring."

[Illustration: MALE CATKIN OF WILLOW.]

"Miss Harson," asked Clara, with a perplexed face, "what are catkins?"

"Here," said her governess, reaching from the top bar of the road-fence
for the lowest branch of a willow tree; "examine this catkin for
yourself, and I will tell you what my _Botany_ says of it: 'An ament, or
catkin, is an assemblage of flowers composed of scales and stamens or
pistils arranged along a common thread-like receptacle, as in the
chestnut and willow. It is a kind of calyx, by some classed as a mode of
inflorescence (or flowering), and each chaffy scale protects one or more
of the stamens or pistils, the whole forming one aggregate flower. The
ament is common to forest-trees, as the oak and chestnut, and is also
found upon the willow and poplar.'"

"It's funny-looking," said Malcolm, when he had made himself thoroughly
acquainted with the appearance of the catkin, "but it doesn't look much
like a flower: it looks more like a pussy's tail."

"Yes, and that is the origin of its name. 'Catkin' is diminutive for
'cat;' so this collection of flowers is called 'catkin,' or
'little cat.'"

"I think I'll call them 'pussy-tails,'" said Edith.

"There is a great deal to be learned about trees," said Miss Harson,
when all were comfortably seated in the pleasant schoolroom; "and,
besides the natural history of their species, some old trees have
wonderful stories connected with them, while many in tropical countries
are so wonderful in themselves that they do not need stories to make
them interesting. The common trees around us will be our subjects at
first; for I suppose that you can scarcely tell a willow from a poplar,
or a chestnut tree from either, can you?"

"I can tell a chestnut tree," said Malcolm, confidently.

"When it is not the season for nuts?" asked his governess, smiling.

There was not a very positive reply to this; and Miss Harson continued:

"I do not think that any of us know as much as we ought to know of the
trees which we see every day, and of the uses to which many of them are
put, to say nothing of many familiar trees that we read about, and even
depend upon for some of the necessaries of life."

"Like the cocoanut tree," suggested Clara.

"That is not exactly necessary to our comfort, dear," was the reply,
"for people can manage to live without cocoanuts, although in many forms
they are very agreeable to the taste, and it is only the inhabitants of
the countries where they grow who look upon these trees as necessaries;
but we will take them up in their turn. And first let us find out what
we can about the willow, because it is the first tree, with us, to
become green in the spring, and, of that large class which is called
_deciduous_, the last one to lose its leaves."

"And why are they called _deciduous?_" asked Malcolm.

"Because they shed their leaves every autumn and are furnished with a
new set in the spring: 'deciduous' is Latin for 'falling off.' And this
is the case with nearly all our native trees and plants. _Persistent_,
or permanent, leaves remain on the stem and branches all through the
changes of season, like the leaves of the pine and box, while
_evergreens_ look fresh through the entire year and are generally
cone-bearing and resinous trees. 'These change their leaves annually,
but, the young leaves appearing before the old ones decay, the tree is
always green.'"

"Miss Harson," said Clara, "when people talk about _weeping_ willows,
what do they mean? Do the trees really cry? I sometimes read about 'em
in stories, and I never knew what they did."

"They cry dreadfully," said Malcolm, "when it rains."

"But only as you do when you are out in it," replied his governess - "by
having the water drip from your clothes. - No, Clara, the tree is called
'weeping' because it seems to 'assume the attitude of a person in tears,
who bends over and appears to droop.' The sprays of this tree are
particularly beautiful, and 'willowy' is often used for 'graceful,' as
meaning the same thing. Its language is 'sorrow,' and it is often seen
in burial-grounds and in mourning-pictures. 'We remember it in sacred
history, associating it with the rivers of Babylon, and with the tears
of the children of Israel, who sat down under the shade of this tree and
hung their harps upon its branches. It is distinguished by the graceful
beauty of its outlines, its light-green, delicate foliage, its sorrowing
attitude and its flowing drapery.'"

"Were those weeping willows that we saw to-day?" asked Clara.

"No," replied her brother, quickly; "they just stuck up straight and
didn't weep a bit."

"They are called _water_ willows," said Miss Harson, "because they are
never found in dry places. They are more common than the weeping willow.
The water willow has the same delicate foliage and the same habit, under
an April sky, of gleaming with a drapery of golden verdure among the
still-naked trees of the forest or orchard. 'When Spring has closed her
delicate flowers,' says a bright writer, 'and the multitudes that crowd
around the footsteps of May have yielded their places to the brighter
host of June, the willow scatters the golden aments that adorned it,
and appears in the deeper garniture of its own green foliage.' A group
of these golden willows, seen in a rainstorm, will have so bright an
appearance as to make it seem as if the sun were actually shining."

[Illustration: THE WHITE WILLOW (_Salix alba_).]

"I wish we had them all around here, then," said Edith; "I like to see
the sun shining when it rains."

"But the sun is _not_ shining, dear," replied her governess: "it is only
the reflection from the willows that makes it look so; and we can make
just such sunshine ourselves when it rains, or when there is dullness of
any sort, by being all the more cheerful and striving to make others
happy. Who loves to be called 'Little Sunshine'?"

"I do," said the child, caressing the hand that had patted her rosy

"Let's all be golden willows," said Malcolm, in a comical way that made
them laugh.

Miss Harson told him that he could not make a better attempt than to be
one of those home-brighteners who bring the sunshine with them, but she
added that such people are always considerate for others. Malcolm
wondered a little if this meant that _he_ was not, but he soon forgot it
in hearing the many things that were to be said of the willow.

"The family-name of this tree is _Salix_, from a word that means 'to
spring,' because a willow-branch, if planted, will take root and grow so
quickly that it seems almost like magic. 'And they shall _spring up_ as
among the grass, as willows by the watercourses,' says the prophet
Isaiah, speaking of the children of the people of God. The flowers of
the willow are of two kinds - one bearing stamens, and the other
pistils - and each grows upon a separate plant. When the ovary, at the
base of the pistil, is ripe, it opens by two valves and lets out, as
through a door, multitudes of small seeds covered with a fine down, like
the seeds of the cotton-plant. This downy substance is greedily sought
after by the birds as a lining for their nests, and they may be seen
carrying it away in their bills. And in some parts of Germany people
take the trouble to collect it and use it as a wadding to their winter
dresses, and even manufacture it into a coarse kind of paper."

"What queer people!" exclaimed Clara. "And how funny they must look in
their wadded dresses!"

"They are not graceful people," was the reply, "but they live in a cold
climate and show their good sense by dressing as warmly as possible. It
was quite a surprise, though, to me to find that the willow was of use
in clothing people. The more we learn of the works of God, the better we
shall understand that last verse of the first chapter of the Bible: 'And
God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.' The
bees, too, are attracted by the willow catkins, but they do not want the
down. On mild days whole swarms of them may be seen reveling in the
sweets of the fresh blossoms. 'Cold days will come long after the willow
catkins appear, and the bees will find but few flowers venturesome
enough to open their petals. They have, however, thoroughly enjoyed
their feast, and the short season of plenty will often be the means of
saving a hive from famine.'"

"Are willow baskets made of willow trees?" asked Malcolm.

"Yes," said Miss Harson. "Basket-making has been a great industry in
England from the earliest times; the ancient Britons were particularly
skillful in weaving the supple wands of the willow. They even made of
these slender stems little boats called 'coracles,' in which they could
paddle down the small rivers, and the boats could be carried on their
shoulders when they were walking on dry land."

"Just like our Indians' birch-bark canoes," said Malcolm, who was
reading about the North American Indians. "But isn't it strange, Miss
Harson, that the Indians and the Britons didn't get drowned going out in
such little light boats?"

"Their very lightness buoyed them up upon the waves," was the reply;
"but it does seem wonderful that they could bear the weight of men. The
willow, however, was also used by the Romans in making their
battle-shields, and even for the manufacture of ropes as well as
baskets. The rims of cart-wheels, too, used to be made of willow, as now
they are hooped with iron; so, you see, it is a strong wood as well as a
pliant one. The kind used for basket-making is the _Salix viminalis_,
and the rods of this species are called 'osiers.' Let us see now what
this English book says of the process of basket-making:

"'The quick and vigorous growth of the willow renders it easy to provide
materials for this branch of industry. Osier-beds are planted in every
suitable place, and here the willow-cutter comes as to an ample store.
Autumn is the season for him to ply his trade, and he cuts the willow
rods down and ties them in bundles. He then sets them up on end in
standing water to the depth of a few inches. Here they remain during the
winter, until the shoots, in the following spring, begin to sprout, when
they are in a fit state to be peeled. A machine is used in some places
to compress the greatest number of rods into a bundle.


"'Aged or infirm people and women and children can earn money by peeling
willows at so much per bundle. The operation is very simple, and so is
the necessary apparatus. Sometimes a wooden bench with holes in it is
used, the willow-twigs being drawn through the holes. Another way is
to draw the rod through two pieces of iron joined together, and with one
end thrust into the ground to make it stand upright. The willow-peeler
sits down before his instrument and merely thrusts the rod between the
two pieces of iron and draws it out again. This proceeding scrapes the
bark off one end, and then he turns it and fits it in the other way; so
that by a simple process the whole rod is peeled. When the rods are
quite prepared, they are again tied up in bundles and sold to the

"But how do they make the baskets?" asked Clara and Edith. "That is the
nicest part."

"There is little to tell about it, though," said their governess,
"because it is such easy work that any one can learn to do it. You saw
the Indian women making baskets when papa took us to Maine last summer,
and you noticed how very quickly they did it, beginning with the flat
bottom and working rapidly up. It is a favorite occupation for the
blind, and one of the things which are taught them in asylums."

"I wonder," said Malcolm, "if there is anything else that can be done
with the willow?"

"Oh yes," replied Miss Harson; "we have not yet come to the end of its
resources. It makes the best quality of charcoal, and in many parts of
England the tree is raised for this express purpose. 'The abode of the
charcoal-burner,' says an English writer, 'may be known from a distance
by the cloud of smoke that hovers over it, and that must make it rather
unhealthy. It is sometimes a small dome-shaped hut made of green turf,
and, except for the difference of the material, might remind us of the
hut of the Esquimaux. Beside it stands a caravan like those which make
their appearance at fairs, and that contains the family goods and
chattels. A string of clothes hung out to dry, a water-tub and a rough,
shaggy dog usually complete the picture.'"

"But how can people live in the hut," asked Malcolm, "if the charcoal is
burned in it? Ugh! I should think they'd choke."

"They certainly would," said his governess; "for the charcoal-smoke is
death when inhaled for any length of time. But the charcoal-burner knows
this quite as well as does any one else, and he makes his fire outside
of the house, puts a rude fence around it and lets it smoke away like a
huge pipe. The hut is more or less enveloped in smoke, but this is not
so bad as letting it rise from the inside would be. A great deal of
willow charcoal is made in Germany and other parts of Europe."

"But, Miss Harson," said Clara, in a puzzled tone, "I don't see what
they do with it all. It doesn't take much to clean people's teeth."

"No, dear," was the smiling reply, "and I am afraid that the people who
make it are rather careless about their teeth. - You need not laugh,
Malcolm, because it is 'just like a girl,' for it is quite as much like
a boy not to know things which he has never been taught, and you must
remember that you have two years the start of your sister in getting
acquainted with the world. Perhaps you will kindly tell us of some of
the uses to which charcoal is applied?"

"Well," said the young gentleman, after an awkward silence, "it takes
lots of it to kindle fires."

"I do not think that Kitty ever uses it in the kitchen," said Miss
Harson, "for she is supplied with kindling-wood for that purpose. You
will have to think of something else."

But Malcolm could not think, and his governess finally told him that a
great deal of charcoal is used for making gun-powder, and still more for
fuel in France and the South of Europe, where a brass vessel supplies
the place of a grate or stove. Quantities of it are consumed in
steel-and iron-works, in preserving meat and other food, and in many
similar ways. The children listened with great interest, and Malcolm
felt sure that the next time he was asked about charcoal he would have a
sensible answer.

"Our insect friends the aphides, or plant-lice, are very fond of the
willow," continued Miss Harson, "and in hot, dry weather great masses of
them gather on the leaves and drop a sugary juice, which the
country-people call 'honey-dew,' and in some remote places, where
knowledge is limited, it has been thought to come from the clouds. But
we, who have learned something about these aphides[1], know that it
comes from their little green bodies, and that the ants often carry the
insects off to their nests, where they feed and 'tend them for the sake
of this very juice. The aphis that infests the willow is the largest of
the tribe, and the branches and stems of the tree are often blackened by
the honey-dew that falls upon them."

[1] See _Flyers and Crawlers_, by the author. Presbyterian Board of

"Do willow trees grow everywhere?" asked Clara.

"They are certainly found in a great many different places," was the
reply, "and even in the warmest countries. In one of the missionary
settlements in Africa there is a solitary willow that has a story
attached to it. It was the only tree in the settlement - think what a
place that must have been! - except those the missionary had planted in
his own garden, and it would never have existed but for the laziness of
its owner. Nothing would have induced any of the natives to take the
trouble to plant a tree, and therefore the willow had not been planted.
But it happened, a long-time ago, that a native had fetched a log of
wood from a distance, to make into a bowl when he should feel in the
humor to do so. He threw the log into a pool of water, and soon forgot
all about it. Weeks and months passed, and he never felt in the humor to
work. But the log of wood set to work of its own accord. It had been cut
from a willow, and it took root at the bottom of the pool and began to
grow. In the end it became a handsome and flourishing tree."

This story was approved by the young audience, except that it was too
short; but their governess laughingly said that, as there was nothing
more to tell, it could not very well be any longer.

[Illustration: THE WEEPING WILLOW (_Salix Babylonica_).]

"The weeping willow," continued Miss Harson, "was first planted in
England in not so lazy a way, but almost as accidentally. Many years ago
a basket of figs was sent from Turkey to the poet Pope, and the basket
was made of willow. Willows and their cousins the poplars are natives of
the East; you remember that the one hundred and thirty-seventh psalm
says of the captive Jews, 'By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,
yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the
willows in the midst thereof.' 'The poet valued highly the small slender
twigs, as associated with so much that was interesting, and he untwisted
the basket and planted one of the branches in the ground. It had some
tiny buds upon it, and he hoped he might be able to rear it, as none of
this species of willow was known in England. Happily, the willow is very
quick to take root and grow. The little branch soon became a tree, and
drooped gracefully over the river in the same manner that its race had
done over the waters of Babylon. From that one branch all the weeping
willows in England are descended.'"

"And then they were brought over here," said Malcolm. "But what odd
leaves they have, Miss Harson! - so narrow and long. They don't look like
the leaves of other trees."

"The leaf is somewhat like that of the olive, only that of the olive is
broader. The willow is a native of Babylon, and the weeping willow is
called _Salix Babylonica_. It was considered one of the handsomest
trees of the East, and is particularly mentioned among those which God
commanded the Israelites to select for branches to bear in their hands
at the feast of tabernacles. Read the verse, Malcolm - the fortieth of
the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus."

Malcolm read:

"'And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees,
branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and _willows of
the brook;_ and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.'"


"A place called the 'brook of the willows,'" added his governess, "is
mentioned in Isaiah xv. 7, and this brook, according to travelers in
Palestine, flows into the south-eastern extremity of the Dead Sea. The
willow has always been considered by the poets as an emblem of woe and
desertion, and this idea probably came from the weeping of the captive
Jews under the willows of Babylon. The branches of the _Salix
Babylonica_ often droop so low as to touch the ground, and because of
this sweeping habit, and of its association with watercourses in the
Bible, it has been considered a very suitable tree to plant beside ponds
and fountains in ornamental grounds, as well as in cemeteries as an
emblem of mourning."

"How much there is to remember about the willow!" said Clara,
thoughtfully. "I wonder if all the trees will be so interesting?"

"They are not all _Bible_ trees," replied Miss Harson. "But the wise
king of Israel found them interesting, for he 'spake of trees, from the
cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of
the wall.'"



"The pink trees next, I suppose," said Malcolm, "since we have had the
yellow ones?"

"_Real_ pink trees?" asked Edith, with very wide-open eyes.

"No, dear;" replied her governess; "there are no pink trees, except when
they are covered with bloom like the peach trees. Malcolm only means the
maples that we saw in blossom yesterday and thought of such a pretty
color. There are many varieties of the maple, which is always a
beautiful and useful tree, but the red, or scarlet, maple is the very
queen of the family. It is not so large as are most of the others; but
when a very young tree, its grace and beauty are noticeable among its
companions. It is often found in low, moist places, but it thrives just
as well in high, dry ground; and it is therefore a most convenient
tree. Here is a very pretty description, Malcolm, in one of papa's large
books, that you can read to us."

Malcolm read remarkably well for a boy of his age, and he always enjoyed
being called upon in this way.

[Illustration: THE RED MAPLE.]

Miss Harson pointed to these lines:

"Coming forth in the spring, like morning in the east, arrayed in
crimson and purple; bearing itself, not proudly but gracefully in
modest green, among the more stately trees in summer; and ere it bids

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