“So was I once myself a swinger of birches. And so I dream of going back to be…”- Robert Frost
Beauty is all around us. It may not be in the obvious places like a gilded castle dripping with chandeliers catching the light of a candle-lit ballroom. And, of course, beauty is most certainly in the eye of the beholder. I would like to teach my boys a few things about this complicated creature we call “beauty”.
So, in rare moments, when my boys are apt to listening to the dreamy words that exit my mouth, I share with them the beauty in front of us that we might not see.
I found myself being pushed in our web swing by my youngest a few days ago; reminiscent of Robert Frost’s wistful poem where he dreams of going back to swinging on birches. As my son pushed me back and forth on the swing, I took a moment to ask him which tree was his favorite. I asked him to look at the leaves.
See how the birch leaves twist and twirl in the wind?
Look how the sassafras tree leaves almost look like velvet.
Then I asked him to look at the bark: the river birch with its white markings and the sassafras with a bark appearing to be weathered and older than its years. He said he liked the sassafras because its leaves were soft and I told him my favorite was the very tree I was swinging from: the river birch. I like how the leaves seem to dance to the wind differently than the other trees. They flutter faster and catch the light like lace.
He jumped on the swing with me and we closed our eyes as we spun underneath the shade of our trees; their canopy enveloping us in green beauty in our very backyard. Maybe he learned a thing about beauty?
The Largest Magnolia in Texas
We spent one afternoon last summer hunting down what the internet has listed as “the largest Magnolia Tree” in Texas …and it’s right near us in Lindale! The website told us to look in the ghost town of Hopewell outside of the Swan Community. The only directions we had was that “The Hopewell Magnolia … on the southwest corner of the Hopewell Baptist Church Cemetery.”
So we drove around south of I-20 looking for a ghost town. They were intrigued and a little spooked! I gave them clues to indicate where a home might once have stood. I told them to look for old fence rows and remnants of a barn. And I taught them how to notice where a homestead might have been by finding yellow daffodils that once outlined a home. I drove up and down hills and around curves on black top roads I have never encountered before.
My oldest son found an old looking gate … evidence of a ghost town? My youngest son spotted Cedars in a nice row … an old fence row? As we continued over Highway 69 onto Jim Hogg Road, it was there, maybe a mile after a large bend in the road by Tyler Pipe, that we saw a sign for “Hopewell Baptist Church”.
Not very far down the blacktop, the boys and I began noticing old barns, a clapboard house, and yellow daffodils!
A ghost town for sure! And across the way was the church with a large cemetery next door. As I pulled into the parking lot, there, standing outside our car window was the majestic magnolia … towering up, up, above our heads.
I immediately parked the car and jumped out to head straight to the cemetery. My boys, however, were a little trepid. Momma’s going to climb a tree in a cemetery they probably thought. Never mind that they are both at the age where cemeteries are still rather creepy … my plan was that we were going to touch the largest magnolia tree in Texas!
As we walked to the tree still encaged by the cemetery fence, it felt as if it grew taller and taller and then wider, wider, and wider still.
I attempted to take a few photographs but no photo could capture the true size of this beauty. I pointed out to the boys how the old roots of the trees intermingled among headstones. How old was this Magnolia when these souls were laid to rest? What comings and goings had the Magnolia seen in the old ghost town?
And that’s the moment the lesson was lost on my kids and the Magnolia was not a thing of beauty to them but an old tree in a creepy cemetery with cracked headstones.
“Lets go!” They cried out as they crawled back into the car. I was still trying to figure out how to touch the tree without actually trespassing into the cemetery but the boys had seen enough. We later agreed that the “largest Magnolia tree” in Texas is a thing of beauty, but if I want to visit it again, it will have to be on my own time.
If you want to learn more about the Hopewell Magnolia visit: www.texasescapes.com/EastTexasTowns/Hopewell-Texas.htm
I once read that trees are steady; their roots growing deep into the earth and they are in no hurry to do so.
That’s their job. To grow. To provide. And to give. But I believe they also see. They have seen things from the past and if we could just lay our hands on their bark, perhaps we could see what beauty existed 20, 30, 50, 100 years ago. Simultaneously, we see the beauty that exists in the present. And if we really dream, like Robert Frost, we could imagine that we, too, could be a swinger of birches. After all, “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”