May 16, 2024
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May 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

How lucky are we to be living in an age when we don’t have to be able to identify different types of trees by looking at their leaves or their bark or whatever? If we had to, I’d be dead in a day.

And before you say, “That’s it; he ran out of topics. I called it!” I actually ran out of topics my second week of doing this. But hear me out.

Like if I see a leaf, not only do I not know what kind of tree it came from, I also don’t know the properties of that tree. But I bet there was a point in history where you just had to know which plants were good for food, and which plants were good for firewood, and which ones were good for rashes, and which ones were good for getting rid of rashes…

Cartoon Illustration of mixed Forest with Deciduous and Coniferous Trees

I mean, if you put a bunch of leaves in front of me, what can I identify? Grass, maybe? That’s about it.

I can’t be the only one who is this clueless. Books are always saying, “In a home lined with hickory trees…” I doubt the writer had any idea what hickory trees are. The writer did extensive research and looked into a bunch of trees before deciding that hickory said something meaningful about the main character, right? “This is the type of tree the main character would have picked.” No, the writer chose it because it was the first tree that came to his mind. And if it is on purpose, the writer’s thinking, “The reader will paint a picture in his head of exactly what I’m talking about,” and the reader is like, “I trust the writer and all, but I’m just picturing trees. Am I picturing the right type of trees? I’m not looking this up.”

Even when sefer Tehillim says, “The voice of Hashem knocks down cedar trees!” I’m probably picturing like oak trees or something. I am having the wrong kavanos.

I guess whoever named streets knew, though, because they said, “This is going to be Elm Street, because there are a lot of elms on this street.” And then they cut down all the trees and put up houses. It should be called Mailbox Street.

But what do you want? As far as I know, there was no point in school where they sat us down and said, “These are the trees…” The only time I remember them doing that is the first week of kindergarten when the students would collect leaves from the school parking lot and glue them to a piece of paper, because at that point in the year everyone still had their glue, and then the morah would write “elm” and “oak,” and no one knew how to read yet, so I guess that was for the parents.

But there are all these books for little kids that have one word on each page, like “Duck!” “Cow!” “Moose!” But it’s never like “Tree!” “Other tree!” They’re just trees.

Probably the reason we don’t learn about leaves is that it’s boring. But it’s only boring because it doesn’t concern us. If I teach you how to recognize poison ivy, you don’t find that boring. You say, “OK, now I know what not to touch.” Not that it helps. They say, “It’s three leaves.” What does that mean? What plant has only three leaves? Clovers? Aren’t you just showing me three leaves of that plant?

In the old days it wasn’t boring because the knowledge of different types of trees could save a life. Nowadays, the typical man doesn’t even know the different types of flowers, even though that could save a life.

But, I mean, we learn about all the different kinds of animals in school, even though most of them don’t really matter to our lives, practically speaking. I eagerly learned the difference between a hippo and a rhinoceros, and this knowledge has not had a massive impact on my life.

I’m not even well-enough equipped to teach myself about trees, because I’m probably looking at the wrong peratim. Am I supposed to be looking at size? Shades of green? I mean, these two trees look different, but are they different species or just different ages? If I go to a zoo and I see a white horse, a black horse and a zebra, the only reason I know that two of them are horses and one is not is because somebody filed them into two separate enclosures.

I do know more than I’m giving myself credit for, probably. Maple leaves I know because of the Canadian flag. Pine I know, because pine needles. I can also technically identify a palm branch, a myrtle branch and a willow branch, but not a citron branch. Also, I’m pretty sure I can only identify myrtles if I’m at the etrog dealer. I don’t think I can go out into the woods and come back with hadassim.

I guess I’ve also heard of some species based on the types of wood that they say are in furniture. The salesman says, “This is mahogany!” And you’re like, “OK.” I don’t know if that’s good. Is mahogany a wood or a color?

Anyway, this lack of knowledge is a chaval, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to change anything. I tried researching trees for the sake of this article, and even though this is a use—writing an article—I still found it super-boring. “You can turn this wood into baseball bats!” No, I can’t. Do you know me? “This one makes good furniture!” Great! I don’t make good furniture.

What I did get is that if you read up on it, basically every kind of tree has a use if you know what you’re doing. We don’t. And it’s never obvious uses, like, “This one is good for hiking sticks and pretend guns!” “This one always has beehives!” “This one’s good for shade!”

Pretty soon, all we’ll be good for is shade.


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He has also published eight books and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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