Watching Trees Grow

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Sep 13, 2014

“There is always music amongst the trees in the garden, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it.”
Minnie Aumonier

I remember the laughter I caused among some community friends when I found myself saying out loud these words, “I like watching trees grow.” Even I had to laugh at the sound of it. But lest you think I have nothing else to do or that there must be something wrong with me, allow me to explain. 

Here on the VFCC campus we have planted many trees since the college moved here in 1976. I could show you every tree that has been planted in the past 18 years since Evie and I came here. In 2000, two rows of maple trees were planted behind the Harrup Administration Building and those trees keep growing and growing. 

When I was talking to my friends I was actually referring to those trees. Every time I walk past them I am amazed at how much they have grown in almost 15 years. I guess I actually have been watching trees grow. 

But the trees I would like to talk about here are not those trees but rather the ones around our old farmhouse. For 18 years these trees have also been growing. Because they are so familiar and we see them countless times a day, we can almost look right past them. 

Harry Emerson Fosdick said, “Of all man’s work of art, a cathedral is the greatest. A vast and majestic tree is greater than that.” So I decided to go for a walk and look at the trees in and around our yard. Since many trees line the fence around the house, I had to keep my observations to some primary ones within our yard.

Although we have several white pines in our back yard, it is the huge one that holds up our wooden porch swing that has the most character. Wet snow has taken its toll on most of the branches but that ragged and rugged look has a character all its own.

The largest tree in our back yard, however, is an elm tree. I always feel smaller when I stand next to it. It was growing there long before the first soldier came to the Valley Forge Military Hospital. 

Evie and I planted a weeping cherry tree that we called our “Celebration 2000” tree. That was the year our new library and the Renaissance Academy opened; the Chapel was expanded to almost twice its size; the other half of the dining commons was opened; and 27 old dilapidated military buildings came down. I will never forget carrying it out of the trunk of our car and over these years we have watched it grow to more than 25 feet tall.

We also planted an apple tree when Noah, our grandson was born. Each time he visits we have a tradition to take his picture by his tree. We planted another apple tree and a plum tree nearby. 

Maple trees are spectacular in the fall. We have several that turn brilliant yellow. But in our front yard it is the sycamore trees that make the boldest statement. Actually, it is one of the three sycamore trees that speaks the loudest.

Anyone who comes up our driveway immediately sees it. To call it majestic would be an understatement. I had never measured its circumference but for this column I decided it was time. With the help of some baler twine, I discovered it is just under 16 feet around. The oldest part of our house was built somewhere around 1850 and this tree was probably growing there when the foundation was dug. 

In his 1914 poem “Trees” Joyce Kilmer began, “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree” and he ended with “Poems are made by fools like me but only God can make a tree.” 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
University of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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