The Physical Ginkgo

The Ginkgo biloba tree that stands in front of Dickinson’s Biddle House, facing West High Street, fits beautifully into the specifically designed landscape around it.  It expands cleanly and vastly in the area that it takes up. The branches are uniform, mostly straight, with almost no errors—there nothing that would reach down and touch you while walking. There are round, healing spots where the tree has been maintained to remain aesthetically and functionally pleasing. The branches don’t start until roughly six feet above the trunk.  On the side of the building, a large branch reaches to halfway to the other side, and is supported by a suspension cable to keep it from drooping or falling. The ginkgo is eighty-two feet in height, sixty inches in diameter, and is estimated to be aged between 90 and 100 years old. That would put its year of planting between 1905 and 1915.

The featured image, pulled from Dickinson College’s online Archives and Special Collections, was taken circa 1900, and although it isn’t completely certain whether the branches peeking from the right side of the image are those of the Ginkgo, it appears to be so.  Taking into consideration the location of the tree now, and comparing it to this photo, it would make sense that the branches pictured are those of the present day Ginkgo tree. If so, that puts the tree at the age of 115 years! This seems to be the only photo of Biddle House taken around the estimated time of the tree’s origin. The tree is male, and according to Dickinson College arborist Mark Scott, is in very good health.  It’s counterpart, a female ginkgo, resides on the other side of campus, between Old West and East College buildings.  A distinct feature of the ginkgo that sets it apart from other trees is its incredibly short foliage period.  Within 24-48 hours, all the leaves turn yellow and promptly fall off in unison.

The ginkgo is a beautiful tree, and although it is right in the middle of our modern world (positioned right next to the road and growing amidst some of the most frequented buildings on campus) it evokes a feeling of long ago.  The ginkgo tree has been referred to as a living fossil, having been around since the dinosaurs. Aldo Leopold would likely agree, this tree has a history.  Not only as an individual-starting from a seedling at a time when many homes still didn’t have electricity, and being present for the rapid expansion of the technological age- but also as a species, surviving and evolving for millennia without much variation from its original, ancient self.  Ginkgo biloba are resilient, honorable trees.

ginkgo selfie 2  ginkgo leaves   ginkgo selfie

Height comparison with the tree

Height comparison with the tree

Although blurry, you can see the cable that is screwed into two branches, using the tension between the two to hold up the lower branch.

Although blurry, you can see the cable that is screwed into two branches, using the tension between the two to hold up the lower branch.



The significance of trees

Growing up in Vermont, trees have been part of my entire life, whether directly or as scenery in the background.  It’s not until I meet someone from an entirely urban area that I realize trees have always been around me.  Although I don’t recognize their absence when I stay in cities, I notice their presence when I enter back into an environment rich in trees.  As a child, and still today, I would make a car game out of observing the difference in trees on the side of the road and how they changed with each different state that we drove through.  It was fun for me to compare the differences, and classify each place I had been to based on how the trees looked.  The landscape along the highways helped me to form a sense of place wherever I traveled to, and I always compared it to Vermont.  When I think of traveling to a new place, among the first things I think of is what the landscape is like, particularly the trees.  I have always been excited to find new trees, and see what they look like in person.

The most significant memory of a tree that floats to the front of my mind, is one of several summers ago.  I was working with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) at the Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historic Park (MBRNHP) in Woodstock, Vermont.  This summer was one that introduced me to a new relationship with trees.  As a conservation corps our work was centered around maintaining trails in the National Park, grounds restoration, and our biggest project, forestry.  Forestry work entailed cutting down dead, unhealthy or aesthetically unpleasing trees in order to allow space for the better, healthier trees to continue growing.  Cutting down trees was an experience that I had never participated in before.  We were taught several methods of how to cut down the tree, using different types of saws and axes.  Our crew leaders showed us how to cut down the tree in the way that avoided any danger.  The trees we cut down were brought to the parks lumber yard and then used for projects within the park, a sustainable closed loop of production.

Every day, we hiked from the parking lot of Mount Tom, where MBRNHP is located, to halfway up the mountain, where the tree stand was.  Carrying our tools for the day and dressed in our work boots, canvas pants and long sleeve shirts, the beginning of the day set the tone for the next eight hours.   Work days were long and hot, and the highlight of the day was lunch, when we were able to sit down in the middle of where we were working—often amongst the trees we were foresting—and relax.  On a day that we were cutting down trees, I took my lunch and walked further into the patch of trees that we were working.  I sat under a tree and closed my eyes.  There was a slight breeze that blew through the leaves, and when I closed my eyes the sound of the leaves relaxed me.  It is one of my favorite parts of summer and fall, to hear the wind rustle the leaves.

I have experienced and appreciate trees in all forms.  Being close with them, although I often forget it, is a way in which I can find clarity, relaxation, and comfort.