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Enduring Roots

Encounters with Trees, History, and the American Landscape

Gayle Brandow Samuels

Publication Year: 1999

Trees are the grandest and most beautiful plant creations on earth. From their shade-giving, arching branches and strikingly diverse bark to their complex root systems, trees represent shelter, stability, place, and community as few other living objects can.

       Enduring Roots tells the stories of historic American trees, including the oak, the apple, the cherry, and the oldest of the world’s trees, the bristlecone pine. These stories speak of our attachment to the land, of our universal and eternal need to leave a legacy, and demonstrate that the landscape is a gift, to be both received and, sometimes, tragically, to be destroyed.

       Each chapter of this book focuses on a specific tree or group of trees and its relationship to both natural and human history, while exploring themes of community, memory, time, and place. Readers learn that colonial farmers planted marker trees near their homes to commemorate auspicious events like the birth of a child, a marriage, or the building of a house. They discover that Benjamin Franklin’s Newtown Pippin apples were made into a pie aboard Captain Cook’s Endeavour while the ship was sailing between Tahiti and New Zealand. They are told the little-known story of how the Japanese flowering cherry became the official tree of our nation’s capital—a tale spanning many decades and involving an international cast of characters. Taken together, these and many other stories provide us with a new ways to interpret the American landscape.

       “It is my hope,” the author writes, “that this collection will be seen for what it is, a few trees selected from a great forest, and that readers will explore both—the trees and the forest—and find pieces of their own stories in each.”


Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Almost thirty years ago, around the time my husband and I bought our first home, there was a pop psychology quiz that was very much in vogue. It went like this: picture your perfect home; now describe the number of trees you see and where they stand in relation to the house. The trees, so it was said, represented friends ...

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pp. xiii-xv

My greatest obligation, as always, is to my husband, a sensitive reader of the many drafts of this work and a solver of the host of computer problems that I managed to generate while producing it. He has shared in this process day in and day out, been my enthusiastic companion on field trips near and far, ...

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Chapter 1. Taking Root: The Charter Oak

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pp. 3-22

I am openly polygamous when it comes to trees. My first love was a sycamore (Platanus acerfolia). The mottled bark, furry balls, and satisfying sound of its name attracted me. But what kept my affection was its presence on my grandmother’s street: my favorite was directly in front of her house. ...

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Chapter 2. Family Trees

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pp. 23-38

This is how I imagine the scene: a two-story white clapboard house sits off to the left, a fence—part stone, part whitewashed rails— separates the house from the wide dirt road in front. A couple, appearing to be in their late sixties, stands in front of the house, behind the fence. On a narrow strip of grass ...

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Chapter 3.Apples: Core Issues

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pp. 39-64

As we filed into the slightly apple-scented room, we were each given two sheets of paper. The first listed the thirty-six apple varieties we would taste. The second was for our ratings: ‘‘zero represents unpalatable and nine denotes an ecstatic taste experience.’’ Swaar was my ecstasy. ...

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Chapter 4. Three Cherries

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pp. 65-90

From the winter of 1996 through late spring of 1997, I was consumed by cherries. It was a pleasant occupation, but not easy to explain. Which cherries, exactly, people would ask? The ‘‘three graces,’’ I would answer: one is esteemed for the character of her wood, the second for the flavor of her fruit, ...

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Chapter 5. Returning Natives

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pp. 91-116

My sister is telling me a story. It is about a woman who moved east from the prairie, following the prevailing winds. The woman, my sister says, felt confined. She could never get used to our eastern hills. She is telling me this story because I have just made the woman’s journey in reverse, traveling against the wind, ...

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Chapter 6. The Tree that Owned Itself

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pp. 117-134

On August 30, 1918, Curtis Pigmon, acting in his official capacity as clerk of the County Court for Knott County, Kentucky, signed and recorded a deed of conveyance ‘‘by and between Alice S. G. Lloyd, Trustee of the Caney Creek Community Center . . . and Mrs. J.W. Elliott of Boston, Trustee for the ‘Freed Budd Sycamore Tree’, ...

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Chapter 7. Methuselah’s Walk

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pp. 135-160

The sharp, squeaky-clean colors of things were what I noticed first. Against a cloudless lupine-blue sky, living and dead trees, weathered in flowing striations of brown and gray ranging from butterscotch to mahogany and stainless steel to charcoal, stood at all possible—and some impossible—angles. ...


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pp. 161-176


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pp. 177-190


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pp. 191-193

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About the Author

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pp. 194

Gayle Brandow Samuels is a lifelong gardener and lover of trees. She is the principal author of Women in the City of Brotherly Love . . . and Beyond and an editor of Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women. Samuels has written for newspapers and magazines, including the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Green Scene.

E-ISBN-13: 9780813556086
E-ISBN-10: 0813556082

Page Count: 214
Publication Year: 1999