Thursday, Dec. 20th, marked the eve of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and an event celebrated for thousands of years.
In Greenwich, the milestone was marked by a walk at dusk in the Montgomery Pinetum. Led by Greenwich's Conservation Commission director Denise Savageau, tree warden Bruce Spaman, and The Garden Education Center's horticulture director, Lisa Beebe, the walk was an opportunity to learn to identify trees, and their role in the forest.
Battle of the Oak King and Holly King
Early in the walk Savageau pointed out a holly tree and an adjacent oak tree, explaining how each rules the forest depending on the time of year.
Savageau explained that, "For thousands of years, the 'yule log' was made of oak that would burn for 12 days...and ended up being the 12 days of Christmas." She added that as precious warmth and light were made possible by fire, traditions grew. One tradition involved saving a piece of the oak log to start the fire for the following year's yule log.
Continuing on the walk, Savageau listed variables that help to identify a tree, including its bark, its twigs, and its silhouette. Spaman explained that a tree's shape is in part determined by whether it grows in a crowded forest or an open area. In an open area, a tree's branches will grow horizontally and display a round canopy. In a crowded forest, a tree's will be small, its trunk branchless.
After the tree walk, the group convened inside the Garden Education Center for the awards ceremony for the Greenwich Tree Conservancy's Awesome Tree Contest. The categories were:
- Most interesting tree branching
- Most gnarly tree
- Fattest tree
- Most serene tree
- Storybrook tree
Awesome Tree Contest winners each received a copy of the book, "Bark: A field guide to trees of the northeast." Children at the event received t-shirts courtesty of Chillybear. Door prizes included memberships to the Bruce Museum, Garden Education Center and a party for 12 hosted by conservation commission director, Savageau.
Coincidentally, the awards ceremony for the Awesome Tree Contest, designed to celebrate Greenwich's trees, was postponed due to Hurricane Sandy. During the October hurricane, falling trees caused damage to homes, overhead utility lines, and property. An ongoing conversation over balancing the beauty and function of trees with safety issues continues to unfold in Greenwich.