Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cedar Lessons

Mom, look at me!” My eyes traveled up and up, then locked on the small, partly obscured shape halfway up the tree. “I see you.” I shouted back. “You look really small.” “You too!” came the answer.

At the tender age of 5, our son had asked to climb the huge, old cedar tree in our back yard. My father had been highly protective, always warning me to be careful and I was determined not to raise our son that way. So I told him he could climb, reminded him to be careful (!), and watched him disappear into the greenery. I had no idea he would go so high. “Take your time coming down.” It seemed a very long time before he emerged, unscathed, at the bottom.

That was nearly 30 years ago and the tree was old then. I have no idea what age it is, but it still graces our yard, dwarfing everything below it. At 50 feet, it hasn’t nearly the 230 foot height such trees can reach. Surrounded by native ferns, star flowers, huckleberry, Oregon grape, mint, St. John’s Wort and the graves of 1 hamster, 1 guinea pig, 2 dogs, and numerous goldfish, baby geese and ducks, it has become a family shrine of sorts. I can’t imagine living here without it.

This is a Western Red Cedar, common in this part of the world, and could live up to 800 years. Although not a true cedar, this slow growing, naturally durable tree has been valued by humans over time. Producing long lengths of timber with true, straight grain, its heartwood has natural decay resistance. Free from pitch, its wood has superior insulation value, is lightweight, easy to work, easy to finish, weather and insect resistant, and flat-out beautiful. Long before our European ancestors arrived, bringing a thriving timber industry with them, it formed an integral part of the spiritual and practical life of local Native Americans.

Jerzy Strzelecki
Across the world, other huge, old evergreens live on - the majestic Cedars of Lebanon. True cedars, these ancient giants can grow up to 80 feet, spread from 30 to 50 feet, and live more than 1,000 years. These, too, have been highly prized since time immemorial. As early as 3,000 BC, Babylonia was importing wood for its temples. 4,700 years ago, Gilgamesh, the legendary king of Sumeria, stripped the land bare in southern Mesopotamia for timber to finish his magnificent city. Much later, King Solomon formed a trading alliance with King Hiram of Tyre to acquire all the cedar wood he needed to build his huge palace and temple in Jerusalem.

Today, precious few of our old growth Western Red Cedars remain - likewise the venerable Cedars of Lebanon. If trees could speak, oh what stories these could tell! Still, the lessons are there. Perhaps we should begin to learn them - beginning with those in our own backyard.
Jerzy Strzelecki

Consider Assyria, once a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches overshadowing the forest;
it towered high, its top above the thick foliage.
The waters nourished it, deep springs made it grow tall;
their springs flowed all around its base
and sent their channels to all the trees of the field.
So it towered higher than all the trees of the field;
its boughs increased and its branches grew long,
spreading because of abundant waters.
All the birds of the air nested in its boughs,
all the beasts of the field
gave birth under its branches;
all the great nations lived in its shade.
It was majestic in beauty, with its spreading boughs,
for its roots went down to abundant waters.
Ezekiel 31:3-7

Cedars of Lebanon picture files from Wikimedia Commons 

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