2011-05-17 / Columns

A Gentle Landscape

The Bright Side
by Annie Bright

I have a friend, a shirt-tail relative really, who lives in the Denver area. She is the daughter of my ex-sister-in-law’s halfsister. Down South she would be called a kissin’ cousin. Julie is a kindred spirit, she loves the outdoors, dogs, horses, books, and can’t abide ignorance. I can thank facebook for bringing us together. Today, she sent me a picture via facebook of Grand Lake, Colorado. She goes up there for the weekend now and then to ride horses and rejuvenate. The photo is so beautiful it doesn’t look real. Many shades of blue cover the sky, the snow covered mountains, the lake and the lingering snow creating a regal image. I want to burn it into my brain so I can bring it up to enjoy. Grand Lake is on the west side of the continental divide, near the south west bottom of Rocky Mountain Park. I’ve been there a couple of times. The west side of the Rocky Mountains are by far my favorite. If you go to Denver, drive up to Grand Lake, you won’t be sorry.

This week has offered many opportunities to enjoy the gentler beauty that surrounds us right here in southern Indiana. A huge double rainbow decorated the sky yesterday. A crazy quilt of green covers the hillsides as the trees burst out their new leaves. I passed a pasture completely covered in bright yellow buttercups. Not a good thing for the horses to eat, but beautiful to see. Butterflies are frequent visitors to the garden and the hummingbirds empty the feeder every day. The male fusses at me in the morning while I drink my coffee on the deck. He still doesn’t want to share the space with any one, not even me. The turkeys are scratching around in the ravine, I enjoy their song as the morning mist rises. The big locust trees are blooming now. They line the highway near Freedom. In many places their feet are standing in water, but that doesn’t hinder their ability to burst into bloom. Those delicate creamy white blooms hang in great clusters, dangling over the highway. I felt as though I were in some magical promenade as I drove under the canopy of green and white.

They are Honey Locust, Gleditsia triacanthos, I think, because they are rather large trees and they like the bottom lands near the river. Hard to tell when you are zipping by at 60 miles an hour. Checking the thorns would have answered the question. The honey locust thorns look pre-historic. They can be up to eight inches long and have many prongs, sharp prongs. When we lived south of town the boundary of the yard had a whole row of honey locust trees. Once I got too close when mowing the grass, I did not make that mistake again. It is easy to believe that they were used as tools and weapons by earlier cultures. Modern folks make good use of locust trees for fence post and firewood. The wood is hard and durable. On a cold winter night, it is a lucky person who has a wood box full of locust wood ready for the stove.

The trees along the road might be black locust trees, Robinia pseudoacacia. This is usually a smaller tree reaching heights between 40 and 75 feet. Much friendlier thorns about a half inch long appear in pairs on the branches of this species. The same type of creamy white blooms hang in fragrant clusters on the black locust trees. Pioneers used locust wood for the cornerpost of their homes when it was handy. According to Marion Jackson’s ‘101 Trees in Indiana’ the black locust can be found in every county save one in Indiana.

I was puzzling over this tree identification issue when I drove home today up Fish Creek Road. I came around the bend and there was a stand of trees dripping in white clusters of blooms. Since I was not going 60 miles an hour and there was no one behind me, I stopped. It didn’t take long to confirm that the trees in my neighborhood are black locust. There are no monster thorns to puncture tires or hands on these beautiful, fragrant trees. Another clue was the short brown seed pods rattling in the wind. Honey locust trees have longer seed pods. Maybe the next time I go down to Worthington, I can stop to check out those thorn trees.

‘til next time,


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