Friday, July 22, 2011

Beeches and other trees

What have I been doing recently? For the most part, watching the leaves grow on trees.

No, I didn’t spend this spring in a chair beside the cherry trees in our backyard, measuring their leaves every half-hour. I did watch when their leaves began to appear, how many days or weeks it took for the leaves to form, and what trees showed yellow-green or purple-green shades in their early buds.

A few years ago, before starting to write seriously, I thought I knew a lot about plants, wildlife, and nature in general. Once I started writing, however, I realized that my view of natures was quite narrow and ignorant.
Take beeches, for example. About a year ago, I sat in front of my keyboard looking at a sentence that claimed the ‘season’ in my story was late spring, “When the beeches were coming into leaf.”

It was a lovely sentence. Unfortunately, I didn’t know whether beeches grow leaves in early spring, late spring, or anytime in between.
Do beech leaves grow before maples or after oaks? And how often does unusually cold weather keep all the leaves—beeches, maples, and oaks—back three weeks so that they burst out together?

Then there are all other questions I need answered: how much time does soil need to warm and dry out after the snow melt and before farmers start plowing—depending on whether the soil is clay, loam, or sand? Which herbs are used for baking or healing, and how are they used? How long does wheat take to ripen? Then how much would this vary in a particular climate during a particular year?

I could look the information up. Someone, somewhere, must have recorded the leaf patterns of all deciduous trees—or at least all of them growing in a certain biosphere. I might also be able to find out whether beeches even grow in the sort of climate I’m creating for this fantasy world.

Still, if I really want to know how trees behave, I eventually have to go outside and watch them grow. If you need me during the next couple of years, you will know where to find me...

Just don’t try to plan your year by when the beech leaves grow (unless you are a farmer).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I haven't got much of a backyard, so studying nature books has helped me greatly. I laughed when I read about the sentence about spring and beech trees...I do that ALL the time to. Write something, then come back later with new info and go, "Oops." REALLY enjoyed this post and it encouraged me to take my time with writing a little more. Right now I've been studying the feudal system and medieval taxes to try and have a solid understanding of those things. Good luck with your tree studies!!!

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