Nature Study in a Suburban Backyard

I don’t have the capacity to get out of the house much, yet. I am still pregnant, and thus still hyperemetic, which means I am barely getting enough calories to function while stuck in bed.

Along the lines of my last post (finding and eliminating “unnecessary friction” which might prevent me from achieving my lofty goals to become a more able wonder worker), my thoughts turned to how I would ever get myself outside with the kids.

You have to realize that for the majority of my life, I’ve been a sedentary indoor bookworm and screen addict. So my life is not set up right now to get outside with any frequency, and there are so, so many small things that I might do to nudge myself in that direction. Too many to even know where to start!

As I usually do in these situations, I sought inspiration from God, and as usual, it came. As I found myself sorrowing that I knew nothing about the natural world and wondering how I could possibly end up leading my children in a Charlotte-Mason-style nature study in future years, the inspiration came: simply identify the tree in your backyard.

So I did. And it was impossible, at first. Here I was, chomping at the bit, and the tree was still clothed in the nakedness of winter.

But then an unexpected heat wave came in early February, and that tree started to bloom before it even got leaves and identification became possible.

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After some research, I decided this was a white mulberry tree (Morus alba), specifically a sterile fruitless variety called Kingan, which strangely doesn’t have the lobed leaves typical of most mulberry trees. Further research led me to note that our tree is male.

Springtime marched onward and the blooms fell off…

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and the leaves grew in.

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And those leaves got bigger and bigger until the tree provided lush shade cover. Look at our tree today!

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Some of the leaves are as big as Jadzia’s (age 3) face.

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I am so grateful for the inspiration I received to identify this tree. I was taken by complete surprise when I realized that simply knowing the tree’s name burned a deep connection between us—yes, between the tree and me. Suddenly, I had a relationship with it—the tree.

It was shocking and warm. I felt more inclined to spend time with it, because I knew the tree now. The more time I spent under its branches, the more I began to get the bizarre sense that the tree might even enjoy providing shade for my little ones, which was beautiful to think about.

I later discovered that the trees in all the neighbors’ yards also seemed to be fruitless mulberries, but they all bloomed weeks later than ours did. I confess to wondering if our tree was simply more eager to bloom and produce shade because my children played there so much, whereas the neighbors hardly spend time in their yards. Another strange thought.

And here’s a fun aside. As we developed our friendship with our tree, James decided we needed to know the tree’s Serbian name. This deepened our friendship with the tree even more! It turns out the Serbian word for mulberry tree is dud, which is pronounced (you guessed it) “dude”. What a great nickname for a tree friend!

What I wish to emphasize here is the wonder I felt upon discovering the tree’s name, and how this completely changed the way I viewed the tree. It transformed from an unknown thing to a cherished friend. Wonder is an element I had noticed missing in my own life, but wished to give my children and had no idea how.

I have heard the idea expressed in many places that knowing a thing’s name changes your relationship with that object profoundly. I can now from experience tell you that this is, indeed, true.

Names are important. Knowing the names of things around you is an almost sacred thing, not to be dismissed as trivial! I am even pondering the idea that one reason God intended people to develop relationships in and with nature is because the resulting wonder at Creation brings us that much closer to Him.

I think it might be true.

P.S. I was a little intimidated at the idea of drawing a full portrait of the entire tree, so instead I drew one of Dude’s leaves.

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P.P.S. I have identified two other things in our yard: the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), and the common inky cap mushroom (Coprinopsis atramentaria), which shriveled up and died within a few days. I drew portraits of these as well. I am especially proud of the mushrooms and had to share. 🙂

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