“Like those, with the white trunks?” I asked, pointing to some birch trees on the side of the road. Yes, except the ones she was talking about were all white, the leaves too. We never quite figured out exactly which trees were her favorite on that trip, but the image is there in her head, working on her.
And, because this is the way my mind works, I started wondering which tree is my favorite.
I’ve always been fond of willows—their graceful shape, the way the branches reach out only to return to and touch the earth. The promised space within them, hidden and quiet and green. The small, delicate leaves.
I love maples for their color in the fall, and redbuds for their color in spring, as well as the way their trunks twist and spread. I love shagbark hickory because their bark is simply amazing.
But birch trees—is it only because they are in a way a namesake? Bjork—bjørk, actually—means birch.
It’s hard to say if I loved the tree first, for itself, or only after I learned I was connected to it by name. I sat watching a cluster of them one recent afternoon on a trip north. Tall and slender and swaying a little in the wind, leaves glittering like coins. And have you seen their bark in the winter? I fell in love with these trees in a new way when I discovered that against a backdrop of snow and brown-barked trees, birch bark is multi-colored. Subtle, but breathtaking when you come up close.
I can’t help but claim birch trees as my own. They are sort of my favorite by default. Maybe it doesn’t matter if I romanticize them a little, knowing their name is already mine. They make themselves easy to attach oneself to. And if—just in case—having the name means some of the characteristics might somehow magically rub off on me, I wouldn’t mind a bit.
What’s your favorite tree? And—maybe what I’d like to know even more—what does a name mean to you?
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