Out of all of the things that I’d thought that would happen to me when I got older, I never once thought that I’d become a tree slut.
It started when my family and I had moved from Ohio to Florida. From childhood to adulthood, I, like most Ohioans, had marked the passage of time with the changing of the seasons. This marking of time typically started when the leaves would change color.
Leaved trees undergo their color change when the chlorophyll process begins to slow down. This slow down is usually the result of temperature changes and shorter amounts of daylight.
In Ohio, there are roughly 62 varieties of trees. Overall, various types deciduous trees (mainly, maple…) populated the yards in the neighborhoods that I had lived in. Pretty to look at when the weather cooled, but ultimately heinous when it was your turn to rake the yard (Those types of leaves tend to fall all at once, from my recollection). There were some birch, oak, and a few pine. But it’s always the maple trees that sticks in my mind.
When we arrived in Florida, the passage of time was of little importance. Housing needed to be secured, boxes needed to be unpacked, schools needed to have their paperwork filled out: there wasn’t enough time in the day for quite a while.
It was also my first time for a lot of things. Namely seeing palm trees in person. And then saying, verbatim, “I never actually realized how fuckin’ ugly palm trees were…”
To date, there are only 12 species of palm tree that are native to Florida. Amongst them are the Needle, Thatch, Silver, Royal, and Cabbage Palms (the Cabbage palm being the state tree of Florida). Palms tree as a whole are generally found in tropical to subtropical regions. As for their exact point of origin? Tree nerds generally agree that the first palm tree (the date palm to be specific…) was thought to of been born in Mesopotamia over 6,000 years ago.
Regardless of their heritage, palm trees can go to hell.
Regardless of the facts (and my opinion on palm trees as a species) it wasn’t until our first fall as Floridians that it hit me: there are no seasons in Florida. There is only weather. When fall happens in Florida, there is a slight decrease in temperature and the humidity lessened some, but overall? There was no seasonal change that said fall is upon you.
Eventually, my family and I parted ways with Florida in favor of living in Japan for a few years. What little you know about that country and the sense of density that comes from it being over-populated in areas? That much is true. To wit, that sense of population density also translates to urban planning, especially with respect to the placement of trees.
When we got settled, my family and I got lucky and secured a residence that is on the same geographic parallel as Tennessee. There were the normal amount of seasons, leaved trees that changed color at the appropriate time of the year, AND the cherry blossoms in the spring. Everything was coming up Milhouse for us! (And when I say ‘us‘, I mean ‘me’).
As of 2017, there are at least 126 million people living in that country.
If you wanted to turn this into a dick-measuring competition between Japan and America, well, you’re dumb. There are roughly 327 million live bodies in the States, and Japan as a country, is 26 times smaller than the contiguous U.S. That means that you’d have as much luck comparing an apple to an orange. Point of fact? Japan has half of the national parks that we do (Japan = 30, USA = 62).
Green space, in relation to populated areas, is at a premium in Japan. There ARE local parks, but the ratio of people (who need homes) to parks is wildly uneven.
Hence, the Japanese ideal of forest bathing. Essentially, forest bathing is this: you go to a forest, local park, or green space, you “unplug” and you take in the forest. You don’t hike, you don’t workout, you don’t do anything other than be present in the moment.
We don’t do that nearly enough in the States.
That brings us to the present day. My family is, as of this writing, 1/2 way through our desert year.
Speaking entirely for myself, I had absolutely no idea what to expect when it came to desert living. Yes, I knew it was going to be hot. Yes, I knew the desert would be vast. And no, no I had no idea how varied and how damn tall cacti could be.
Here, have some weird facts about cacti you never knew you wanted to know: There are 1,750 species of cacti and all but one of them are native to the Americas. The tallest cactus ever reached a height of over 6 stories (that’s 60 feet).
For the record, trees and cacti are not related. If you’re comparing a cactus to a tree, think of the cactus as the evolution of the tree in the desert climate. The spines on a cactus are known to be modified leaves and in terms of photosynthesis, the stalk of the cactus does all of the work.
While my stay in the southwest of the contiguous United States is nearly at an end, I’ll say this much about desert living: it’s not as bad as you’d think.
Yes, there aren’t nearly enough trees for my liking. Yes, summer in the desert can suck a bag of dicks. Yes, it is super disorientating when you realize that it’s January and the leaves are just starting to fall off of what little tree coverage that may be in your neighborhood. But the locals are nice (for the most part) and everyone should see the desert at least once in their lives. Even if it is in passing.