Today the sassafras changed.
From morning to late afternoon
Transforming from that crispy late summer dull green
Did they come to some sort of arboreal consensus?
Were there joint task force committee meetings to decide?
And once it was settled, when every tree was in agreement,
Did they each select from the catalogue of colors
To choose their autumn display?
Deep crimson, lemon yellow, day glo orange,
Each tree then their own individual
Creativity allowed to be displayed
On leaves of three different shapes.
Not unlike the gingko tree,
Whose billows of delicately shaped sweet green leaves
Will unanimously choose one day
To turn stunningly yellow.
Every small fan of this magnificent tree
Will change seemingly overnight.
Just as they will all elect
Some days later
In one accord.
Once Bob cleared the overgrown Back 40, we began to explore our acreage. The open meadow to the southeast and the tree lot on the northeast were new territory to us and were separated by a shallow hollow that housed the sycamore tree that walloped Bob (see previous Shack post!). Barbed wire fence circled our property decorated by blackberry vine and wild roses on the south. Cows were grazed on all the neighboring properties and would watch us with that lanquid curious cow expression as we wandered along the fence lines. At the top of the ridge was a shallow spring fed pond, not deep enough for even wading but perfect for a jolly clan of frogs. Our spring evenings would be filled with the high pitched calls of spring peepers. And summer nights we would hear the deeper full throated songs of the bullfrogs. I loved those serenades and would thrill to the first sound of peepers in the early spring. This small pond was circled by a copse of black gum trees. This was my first introduction to this lovely tree and it became one of my favorites. It wasn’t until the next spring that I found them in bloom – their limbs decorated in clusters of small white bells. Such a magical sight! I would imagine that I could hear the sound of these chimes ringing down the ridge in the evening breeze. Coming across the back fence to the northeast corner, we found large trees that had fallen, possibly in a long ago storm. These were large white oaks, now covered in moss with burrows hollowed out in the large trunks. This was the part of our property that was mostly in timber, white oaks, red oaks, black walnut, hickory and a sprinkling of sassafras and dogwood. These trees were beautiful at each season. The dogwood dressed in white spring blooms with the sculptural sassafras holding its bright green buds in early spring. The varied greens of the spring leaves from each of the trees, then the deep green shade of summer, to the brilliant tapestry of color in the fall. And even in winter, with the stark dark trees, their beauty of form stripped bare. Bob created a meandering path through the woods that opened to what we called the wooded meadow, directly behind the house. This was the view from the kitchen window and where we watched our little family of deer feed each day. I fell in love with this property. With each season and year, I learned when trees budded, where the secret springs would water the small ferns, where the sun would rise and set on our horizons as we moved through the year. I had an intimate and deep knowledge of this little piece of earth. The sounds and smells and sights of each season and time of day were part of my heart. It is a relationship that changed me. This was one of the great loves of my life. And I am a better, wiser woman because of it.
I know that there are sassafras trees all over the country, but I always think of it as an Ozarks tree. They are usually spotted along the fence lines, a small understory tree. Though, I understand that they can grow to towering heights, I have never seen one that I would consider to be a large tree.
The roots were originally used to flavor root beer and candies, the chemical in the oils were shown to cause cancer in rats, so the natural flavoring from sassafras was taken off the market years ago. Though I do know folks that make tea from the freshly dug roots. The leaves are still used when dried and ground to powder to flavor gumbo and other cajun dishes.
I love the tree in every season. In the spring, it is one of the last trees to bud out. It always looks like a rustic chandelier, holding its bright green buds up to the spring light. With three different shaped leaves, it is a beautiful small tree in the summer. But I think its best season is fall with brilliant color -orange, scarlet and fushia. And in winter, the lovely shape and rough, dark gray bark stand out against the cold landscape.
I keep an eye out for this lovely inhabitant of the Ozarks throughout the course of our seasons.
Take a look at this from the Missouri Conservation Dept.