I went “home” last week. Not to the house I grew up in or even my hometown, but still I was home as I walked under the canopy of 100-foot-tall Eastern forest trees that blanket the Ramapo Mountains of southern New York State. These are the trees of my childhood – maple, oak, beech, hemlock, shagbark hickory, black walnut, white pine.
When I was a child, our family would take walks in fields, pastures and woods, always with an eye toward adventure, but with a good measure of biology and botany thrown into the mix. Mom named the wild flowers and Dad pointed out bark patterns and leaf arrangements to help me sort out the multitude of hardwood trees. In the evergreen world, pine needles were long and soft, hemlock short and flat, and spruce short and sharp.
There is a unique aroma in the hot summer woodland air made up of growing green plants, sap oozing from cracked bark and dry leaves composting underfoot. It is a smell deep and rich; its fragrance almost takes your breath away.
I have now lived in almost every geographic region of the United States. I love the tall straight pines of the Cascade Mountains, the pungent aroma of desert sage brush and the rolling, grass-covered hills of the Kansas prairie. But for me, walking in the Eastern forest, with its magnificent hardwoods and lacy understory trees, is like coming home.
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