Learning to See the Trees

Most people, I’m sure, have heard the saying that one cannot see the forest for the trees. Figuratively speaking, this goes to show that people sometimes become too preoccupied by the small details in life and they lose sight of the bigger picture. Literally speaking, I think this saying is reversed.

One of the first things I noticed upon my arrival to Dickinson College three years ago was the amount of greenery on campus. The vast number of trees, shrubs, bushes, flowers, and other fauna dotting the landscape at the college makes the campus feel integrated into nature; it’s as if the buildings may have taken root amongst the foliage, rather than the other way around. But it many ways, the sheer volume of trees and plants on species obscures some of the ecological diversity.

It wasn’t until my Environmental Sociology class took a walking tour of the campus that I felt as though I was finally able to see the trees for the forest. Led by Dickinson College arborist Mark Scott, my class was introduced one by one to individual specimen of trees that all represent different species.  Until this point, I had never noticed the biodiversity amongst the trees on campus, only the volume of trees as a whole. I felt as though each tree we visited was a sort of ambassador for its species—serving as a link between my class and tree-kind as a whole— giving us a little insight into what life is like for their particular species of tree.

If you pass through the archway between the HUB building and Althouse, you will quickly stumble upon a beautiful Sugar Maple, which watches over the pathway between Althouse and Bosler. Originally native to Canada (think of the Canadian flag), the Sugar Maple has become a relatively common tree along the Eastern seaboard of the United States. Commercially, Sugar Maples are prized for their lumber, and their sap, which has the highest sugar content of that of any type of maple, and is often processed into maple syrup. Aesthetically, these trees are valued for the shade they provide, as well as the brilliant colors the leaves take on in the autumn (Arbor Day Foundation).


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This particular tree, at about ten years old, stands tall and proud. It is a healthy specimen with thick branches that start about seven feet up the trunk and stretch about twelve feet further toward the sky. The branches and trunk are encased in a sturdy-looking, dark brown bark that is rough, and is stippled by splits similar to those that one might see on an overly-plump tomato. Currently, the leaves remain a deep green color, which is sure to begin changing in no time at all.

Surrounded by many towering trees on the academic quad, this Sugar Maple’s physical stature may not immediately set it apart, but it is a hidden gem. Now that I have begun to notice the trees for the forest, I will be sure to keep an eye on this beautiful tree. Especially now that the weather is beginning to change and the first leaves are beginning to fall, I am eager to see what surprises this beauty has in store.




Scott, Mark. 2015. “Dickinson College Walking Tour.” September 4, 2015. Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

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