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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of May 7 - 13, 2003

Opinion Columns

Tree Talk

Commentary by BETTY BELL

From now on every potted tree will be harder to ignore than a wart on the end of your nose.

One day, during the string of years I worked as a sky chauffeur, an employer sent me to Twin Falls to pick up the horticulturist he had contracted to go over his yard with reputed Shaman-like powers over all life rooted in soil. The horticulturist, Glen, as he asked to be called, was friendly enough that I was cheekily emboldened to seek advice I’d rather not pay for.

For the past couple of weeks my ficus tree had looked droopy, and some its leaves showed a hint of yellow. So I asked Glen what I should do. Glen’s answer was a startling nine-word revelation. Startling. And because I’d put that genie back in the bottle if I could, if you don’t want to let the genie out in your house, this is the time to turn to the News of Record or Sports.

Anyone left?

What Glen said was: "There’s no such thing as a happy potted tree."

Well, I warned you. Now here’s what happens: You try hard never to look straight at a potted tree again. Alas, it doesn’t work. From now on every potted tree will be harder to ignore than a wart on the end of your nose. And potted trees are everywhere—they’re all over town at entrances, and inside too, in wee spaces of otherwise ethically run businesses. And wait until the next time you go to a nursery and are confronted by the forest of potted trees awaiting adoption. At least they can hope to be rescued.

But worst of all is to come upon a group of parking lot trees like those at River Run at Baldy. Oh my. Two dozen or more could-be 60-70-80 foot beauties are imprisoned in huge cement pots, lined up in what I suppose is meant to be an eye-pleasing way to direct traffic. Perhaps the winters aren’t unbearable for these trees, but think of them now, in springtime, with each day getting hotter, with heat waves soon to rise from their parking lot slab. Would a single bird pause on a branch of any one of these trees? Would it settle in and build a nest and start a family? Never.

Well, enough of potted trees. I won’t leave you in despondency and despair--here’s a couple of good tree tales.

Do you remember that particular tree so important to you long ago? A tree you climbed and swung from, and built a tree house in for you and your buddies, and buried window-crashed birds beneath--and probably Lassie too? And today, on your favorite hikes, are there trees that you say hi to at least privately--and if no one’s around, you’ll stop and pat? Special trees are like health care--they have to be a part of everyone’s life.

One of my favorite trees is in Hailey, and it’s a magnificent willow. Turn east off Main Street at Silver, go one block to First Ave. North, and there it is. It’s worth the detour. The first time I saw it I stopped the car and went to the door and asked about its history.

"It’s not even our tree," the young man who answered said. "It was here, big even when my dad bought this place 22 years ago. But we don’t own it, the city does. Hailey owns and takes care of the trees all up and down here." He pointed to First Avenue.

What a town! Oh if every town could be as wise. I checked out the rest of the beauties, but, for me, the willow still wins first prize.

My next tree is on a trail you’ve probably hiked countless times: Park above Trail Creek cabin ... walk down below ... turn left up the dirt trail … turn right at the first opportunity … after a short way turn right again at the next opportunity … go up that switchback and hairpin to the next … and before you reach the end of the second switchback—only a ten minute walk in all—and you’re in the presence of one grand old pine. It’s on the downhill side, only 15-20 feet below the path, the biggest tree in the neighborhood. It was lucky enough to seed in ample space and perfect light, so it’s too large for two people to wrap their arms around and join hands—even its boughs can qualify as trees. Best of all, it must be the most creature-friendly tree in Blaine County. Twice I’ve seen a great horned owl presiding on an especially handsome right-angled bough. And then one special day, I saw a bobcat. On that day I was accompanied by magpie friends who know and follow me because I always have suet for them. I hold out my hand and a mag alights and takes the suet offering. My mag friend was the reason I saw the bobcat—it landed right beside him. But the cat’s eyes were locked on me, it didn’t care about the mag, and the mag didn’t have a clue about the cat.

In the few frozen seconds I stood there I imprinted every detail of this tufted, pointy-eared cat. I’d like to say I stood my ground and tried for inter-species communication, but I was totally chicken-hearted. I quick-stepped backwards down the trail while I prayed I’d be sure-footed and not sprawl and be smothered in fur and claws and hot breath.

About that ficus tree: Well, that’s not an heroic tale either. I knew I wouldn’t even try to take it to California where it could have lived a long and happy life. Instead, without sharing Glen’s disheartening nine words, I gave my ficus to a lady I knew only slightly—certainly not well enough that I’d likely ever visit. And I haven’t.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.