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Also known as the most beautiful tree in the world.
My husband thinks I wanted to buy our current house because of the house, but the truth is I fell in love with a tree. It wasn’t just any tree; it was the magnificent magnolia you see in the picture above.
It’s the biggest magnolia I have ever seen, towering above the garage and spreading far and wide. And when it flowers, the entire world takes notice. People stop by to gasp and comment and take photos. Just the other day, as I was taking out the recycling, a swaggering teenage boy, head down and headphones on, stopped to stare at the tree and surreptitiously plucked a blossom that he held up to his nose as he continued on his way. (He didn’t notice me.) This tree has a stop-in-your-tracks effect on people.
I am deeply attached to the tree. I have watched my kids grow up in its branches, which are perfect for climbing. They’re thick and horizontal, covered in smooth grey bark similar to a beech tree. One child in particular likes to climb high up in the magnolia and watch the squirrels that zip and dash all over the place. Sometimes I see him lying face-down on a branch, legs and arms wrapped around it, cheek resting on the bark, just basking in the arboreal glory. I always think of Shel Silverstein’s book The Giving Tree when I see that—except no one will be cutting this one down, at least not as long as I’m its guardian.
Several years ago, it became infested with magnolia scale. These are insects that cover the tree, suck its sap, produce a soft sticky substance that attracts other insects, and cause a mess everywhere. When an infestation is bad and enough sap is being removed, it starts to harm the health of the host tree—and sure enough, my magnolia started to suffer. Everything around the tree was sticky and reeked of sour sweetness, and there were wasps and ants drawn by the stench.
The neighbours said I’d have to cut it down, but I contacted a tree company that promptly diagnosed the problem. A guy in a harness spent two days manually scraping the underside of every single branch to get rid of the scale, then sprayed it with an insect deterrent and injected fertilizer into the soil to encourage it to bounce back. It was a huge job. I paid a lot of money for it, but it worked—and was worth every dollar. It would be impossible to replace this tree, and its absence would completely change the feeling of our home and property. Now every year I watch the magnolia carefully, keeping an eye for signs of scale, ready to jump at the slightest sign of stress. But there hasn’t been another issue.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the forest of Muskoka, but I feel a magnetic attraction to trees. I have memories of my dad hauling me through the bush to find the few remaining stands of virgin white pines around Algonquin Park that were spared from logging in the 1800s. They are truly colossal when you see them up close.
Often I’m baffled by real estate listings that focus exclusively on the house being sold and fail to show pictures of the surrounding lot because, really, that would be the biggest selling point for me. A house can be altered and renovated, but you can’t buy old, majestic, established trees or nearby forests with wildlife. Those are worth their weight in gold. I want trees to fill my view every time I look out the window and to be the first thing I see every day. I think I’d rather live in a shack surrounded by great trees than in a mansion surrounded by nothing. Luckily for me, I can enjoy a happy medium—a house I like on an urban property with some lovely trees to keep me company.
Urban trees are the result of previous owners’ foresight, and I want to offer the same for future residents of this plot of land. I’ve planted several lovely trees over the past few years, including a three-stem river birch, a white pine (in honour of Muskoka), a spruce, two varieties of Japanese maple, and a serviceberry. But I don’t intend to go anywhere for a long time, so they will be mine to enjoy for years to come—and for passersby who take the time to notice their beauty.
For now, though, the magnolia is attracting all the attention. She’s the queen of the month, her shimmering crown of white-pink flowers summoning admirers from blocks away. Soon enough the petals will fall and I’ll have to rake them up as they shrivel and turn brown, but then the canopy will fill out with waxy green leaves and provide luscious shade throughout the summer.
Watching the magnolia while sipping my coffee this morning brought poet Mary Oliver’s words to mind:
When I Am Among the Trees
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It's simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
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