Giving Thanks for a Beloved Sugar Maple

In Cherokee culture, trees are called “standing people.”Credit…Kristian Thacker for The New York Times

Standing under the old sugar maple, I want to sing a hymn. Kneel down and pray. Its tall branches tower above me like flying buttresses, its wide canopy is a sanctuary. It is my favorite tree on the farm.

I measure its girth: 13.5 feet in circumference. Not as large as the maple that was felled in New Hampshire in 2021. That tree was a national champion: 19 feet in circumference, 101 feet tall with a canopy that stretched 100 feet. Our maple, no record-holder, is smaller, about 90 feet tall with a 70-foot canopy, but still of a size one doesn’t see every day.

I can stand underneath the tree in the rain and barely get wet. My husband and I guess the tree is about the age of our old log house, circa 1860, but we’re not sure. Young, perhaps, for maples, which can live up to 300 years. I don’t know if it ever provided sweet sap as other maples have in this valley, but a friend who grew up here and has tapped sugar maples for fifty years says he’s never seen a bigger Acer saccharum.

The maple lives at the bottom of a hill where our children used to ride sleds in winter and jump into colorful leaf piles in autumn. Sometime, long before we arrived at our western Pennsylvania farm 34 years ago, the main trunk split into four. I remember our son climbing into the hollow that formed, where ferns now grow. We hung maple samaras, those winged seeds like helicopters, on our noses. The maple’s gnarly roots protrude out of the ground like those you’d see illustrated in “Alice in Wonderland.” 11-24-22

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