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Heat wave reminds us of the importance of trees, shade

The tree’s shade is cooling me, settling me, allowing me to compose both mind and body, says outdoors columnist
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These two oaks, resurrected from near death, now provide shade from the unrelenting sun. David Hawke/OrilliaMatters

It's hot when I get out of the car. Very hot. Wickedly hot. I wonder if the air-conditioned interior of the vehicle would be a better place to stay.

But I'm home, it's been a long drive down a highway with too many crazy drivers, and I need to get out of the car.

Although it's early evening by the clock, the sun is still quite high and any shadows are thin and offer little relief. I don't 'do' the heat and humidity thing very well; I need relief.

The inside of the house is akin to a pre-warmed oven. I quickly change into minimal clothing and head back outside. God, but it's hot. There is a fleeting thought of pity for those who live in cityscapes, of how they must be darn near roasted alive.

The thought slips away as I can't fathom the horrid reality of it.

A glance around the hazy yard shows that the big oaks at the end of the building have produced a sizeable pool of shade, enough to envelope a couple wooden chairs set out on the lawn. I 'swim' over and deposit myself in the chair deepest into the shade. Hmm, not bad.

The day starts to focus now, the glare of the sun out of my eyes, the gentlest of a breeze wafting across my skin. This is okay. Don't move. Just sit still. Don't work up a sweat.

The tree’s shade is cooling me, settling me, allowing me to compose both mind and body.

An indigo bunting flies to the top of a nearby dying sumac, and immediately has a rival male confronting him. Stupid birds. Don't they know how hot it is? I think they do, as they posture for a moment and then fly in opposite directions back to the thickets.

I was going to cut that sumac down, but my good wife insists that the birds need it up more than I need it down.

Behind me a bluebird sings a quiet chortle. Looking, I see the female on a birdhouse, beak open and panting from the heat. Yet the pair of them are actively house hunting, as tree swallows and wrens have taken over the other nesting boxes around the garden.

She looks at me long and hard, beak open as if in surprise… then joins her mate as they fly off into the orchard. I wonder if they would have stayed if I wasn't here? But they'll return tomorrow. They always do.

I tilt my head back and notice now the spreading branches above me. Branches that are shading me, cooling me, protecting me. They are a horrible sight. Their leaves have been chewed to shreds by leaf miners and caterpillars. Yet, collectively, still present a formidable shield against the sun. I like them, rough as they are.

Swivelling slightly in the chair, my view of the oaks improves. They are twin trees, planted here 41 years ago. I know. Julie and I plunked them in the ground on a wet spring day that many years ago.

We were working on a tree planting project then, and by day’s end there were a handful of dried out and more-dead-than-alive seedlings left over. We brought them home, stuck them in the ground and doused them with a pail of water.

Two were placed here, as at least one was expected to die -- it would be removed and the other would have to survive as best it could. But one didn’t. So the two of them got to grow up side-by-side.

Looking up, way up, I see that the branches of these twins have interlaced over the years. Together they present a classic tower of oak, branches spread high and wide, trunk straight and strong.

However, individually, they are of lesser stature. As if in a very slow dance, their branches have entwined over the years, trunks twisting this way and that to allow for one's new leaves to reach sunlight while making way for the other's new growth to squeeze by.

There are a few dead twigs here and there in places where the sun no longer can reach. The leaves are tattered. The bark is uneven and scarred in places, noticeably only if you look very closely. But they are beautiful together. Well matched. A set. Each equally supporting the other.

A car slows on the roadway and pulls into the lane. As it slips past the garden I see flashes of glinting sunlight between the irises and day lilies. It is Julie, home from errands of the day.

I walk across the crisp brown grass that is our lawn, give her a smile and a quick sticky hug. Two oaks. We retire to the chairs in the shade to catch up on the day.




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