Meeting My Neighbor, The Shagbark Hickory

My neighbor, the Shagbark Hickory

I heard the gun shot as Fate and I walked thought the pasture to the gate that leads into the woods.

It came from our neighbors house.  I assumed they were slaughtering one of their pigs.

When we first moved to the farm, three of our neighbors pigs got out and were rooting around in our front yard.  Red helped herd them back to their pen.   A few months later, our neighbor came over with bacon and ham to thank us.

Once we got over the stream, the gunshots didn’t stop.  Target practice, I thought.   So instead of taking our usual path, which is close to and often through our neighbors property, we headed in the opposite direction towards the meadow.

I’ve only walked in the meadow a couple of times.  It rests between our farm and McMillan Road.  In the spring, summer and fall, it’s tight with brambles, tall grasses and ticks.  The time of year, the ticks are dormant, the grasses are laid down with snow and the brambles are thinner and easy to pass through.

Jon and I often walk the dogs on McMillan Road and sometimes Fate will run into the meadow on a scent, but she never goes far.    There’s an old wooden trough, disintegrating along the fence line, where the cows who used to graze in the meadow, were fed.

There are brambles and bushes, but even though there haven’t been cows in the meadow for years, there is still only one tree.

From the road it looks perfectly shaped as those big old trees that farmers let grow in the pastures for shelter often are.  Unencumbered by other trees, they’re able to reach their branches out evenly on all sides.

Jon and I often admire the tree, it has grace and presence, is witness and sentinel to the land surrounding it.

Always seen from a distance, I never imagined how big the tree really was.

Even when I decided to visit the tree yesterday, I wasn’t thinking it would look so different close up.  So what a surprise it was to see that it wasn’t a Maple as I always assumed, but a massive Shag Bark Hickory.

First I walked around it marveling at the long thick shards of bark bowing off of it.   Then I spread my arms around it in a hug, my fingertips reaching as far at they could, all of me only spanning a third of its circumference.

I’ve been looking at this tree from a distance for over four years.  I thought I knew it.

But being close to it. Walking around it, touching it, looking up into its branches, I knew I was only seeing a small part of it from a distance.

It was like when the first time I stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon looking into it.  It looked like every postcard I’ve ever seen of the Grand Canyon.  Like I was looking at a mural of the Grand Canyon.  I knew the only way I could really “see” the Grand Canyon was to get down into it, walk it, be a part of it.

That’s just what I did with the Shagbark Hickory yesterday. I got to know it, to see it for who it really is, not what I imagined it to be.  I thought of us being neighbors all these years and only now, really getting to know each other for the first time.


10 thoughts on “Meeting My Neighbor, The Shagbark Hickory

  1. How often it is that I never go beyond “just looking from the road” and how wonderful it is, when I do go up close, and personal with things “seen” only from the distance. I have wondered many times if it was fear that kept me from going to a place or approaching a person. Or maybe a type of selfishness in not wanting to deal with disappointment, should that be the case.

    But what joy I have had in life by pushing into an unknown path many times! Learning how amazing people are once I get to truly know them and not just my perception of them. Being enveloped by the lovely experience of being in new places. Even relishing overcoming my fears after taking these steps to interact with people and places previously observed only from a distance.

    Don’t know if any of this makes any sense, but your writing does give me new knowledge and does peak my thinking at the same time. (And your photographs do the same!)

    1. Barbara, your writing makes complete sense to me and I was actually thinking the same about people. I always love when I am surprised by people in the same way that you’re expressing. Thank you for your message. You get completely what I was writing about and more.

  2. Without some form of reference, I’m afraid I can’t appreciate its size. Could Fate stand of sit beside it perhaps?


  3. WHEN I AM AMONG TREES by Mary Oliver

    When I am among the trees,
    especially the willows and the honey locust,
    equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
    they give off such hints of gladness.

    I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
    I am so distant from the hope of myself,
    in which I have goodness, and discernment,
    and never hurry through the world
    but walk slowly, and bow often.
    Around me the trees stir in their leaves
    and call out, “Stay awhile.”

    The light flows from their branches.
    And they call again, “It’s simple,”
    they say, “and you, too, have come
    into the world to do this, to go easy,
    to be filled with light, and to shine.”

  4. Be sure to go back in the fall and try some of the nuts. They take a bit of effort to open but they’re worth it. Of course some of my love for them may be that they are a taste from my childhood.

    I hadn’t thought before about how those solo trees get to reach their preferred size and shape. Thanks.

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