There is an old sycamore tree, down by the creek, just off the southern edge of our land. It stands well over 100 feet tall, and the base of its trunk is almost as wide as my arms can reach. In its center, is a wonderful room, perhaps four feet tall and four feet across, with a smaller entranceway. I can crawl inside and look up and see the sky through a window where a branch once grew. I imagine curling up and falling asleep, wrapped in its ancient wisdom.

Sycamores have been growing on the earth for more than a million years. They are survivors, but in more ways than one. Some individual trees have been known to live for over 500 years. Perhaps the tree that now stands down by the creek was once keeping watch over the valley as native Americans fished the creek below. Perhaps it stood, more lanky, yet tall, as Lewis and Clark passed by, mapping their way farther west, and perhaps, just maybe, in the early 1800s it offered a sheltered resting spot for a young Ulysses S. Grant, when he grew tired of skipping rocks across the creek.

I have read of one sycamore tree, in Brandywine, Pa., that is believed to have sheltered General Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War. The battle of Brandywine marked a turning point in the war, even though General Washington lost the battle. Thankfully, most of Washington’s troops were able to escape not only serious injury, and British capture as well, and having done so, they remained optimistic, and went on to win the war. Ever since that battle, and the soldiers rest under the sycamore, the tree has been a symbol of hope and perseverance.

And the sycamore’s wood is strong. Even though its wood is coarse grained and difficult to work, it is often used in making butcher blocks, and because of its strength, it has been used to make storage and shipping boxes to better protect their contents.

I have always been familiar with sycamores, at least by name, even though I grew up in the city. Just about every town, from eastern Texas to southern New England, has a Sycamore Street, usually not too far off of Main Street. This is because the trees were often been planted to provide shade to the sidewalks below. Their strong root systems also kept them from toppling over and damaging nearby homes, though the roots were known to tear up the sidewalk pavers.

As a city dweller, even though I could have easily given you directions to Sycamore Street, I would not have been able to tell you what the tree actually looked like. Now, I know that these majestic trees are covered with a beautifully mottled red, white, and grey bark. The red areas are the fresh new bark, that turns white and then darkens with age. As the trees grow ever larger, the older grey bark falls away, leaving the new bark exposed, and the tree dressed in a beautiful, almost jigsaw like, mosaic.

Not only are sycamores large, but so too are their leaves, that look somewhat like giant maple leaves, with three to five broad lobes. A single leaf can easily be larger than the outstretched fingers on my hand, and measure more than seven inches across. I can personally attest that by simply cutting out two eyeholes, the leaves make a wonderful mask, that can be worn either for camouflage or to celebrate a certain fall festival. I
have also heard city folk bemoan the copious quantity of the large leaves that they need to rake in the fall, but now that I live on a farm, the fall ritual of raking is a distant memory.

Then there is the speed with which sycamores grow. A first-year sapling will easily reach a height of four to five feet. I look, and it seems that within the blink of an eye, another sycamore has sprouted where I do not want it, beside the barn, Greg’s shop, or my greenhouse. Every spring and fall, I make my rounds, cutting down the fast-growing intruders before they can wreak havoc on our structures. I try to warn them that there are better places to take root, but they do not seem to listen. Perhaps they just seek
our company.

So, with that thought in mind, I think that I will seek out the sycamore’s company, and head down to the creek, crawl inside my favorite towering tree, sit back, and look up through its skylit window. I might even close my eyes and fall asleep to the sound of the rustling leaves overhead and the creek water running south to the river. No matter what,

I will smile, knowing that I am wrapped securely within the tree’s heart. Yes, this sycamore and I will be able to keep each other company, for many many more years to come.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.