When my daughter graduated from NYU in May, I was hoping to squeeze in a visit to Central Park after all the activities. We did and as usual, it didn’t disappoint. Spring had sprung and people, wildlife, and flowers were all around us. I took pictures of turtles,
my daughter watching ducks
and just took in the beauty of the park.
I then walked by and noticed a beautiful tree littered with initials carved into its base. I kept walking, but then smiled and turned around. It needed to have its picture taken and I immediately thought “blog post idea.” I’m just now getting around to writing about the tree with the initial tattoo (ala The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
This tree had initials carved on it on all sides. I am terrible at estimating how old the tree is, but I am sure many of the initials were from long ago. I thought about the people who carved the initials. Long ago men carried pocket knifes. I don’t know if this is still the case, but I imagined people strolling along the path in the park, holding hands when they decide to mark that specific moment in time by carving their symbolic love in the tree, a permanent reminder of their love.
This custom has been around for centuries. I know one instance of tree carving, but decided to google and see what else came up on the subject.
Well, I’ll be damned. There is even a name for tree carving: arborglyphs. It looks like researchers are looking to some of the world’s oldest tree carvings and as stated at treehuggers.com ” to better understand the peoples and traditions of cultures past — and most are a lot more interesting than just a heart with an arrow through it.” Who knew?
The lifespan of an arborglyph ( I feel smart writing that) is of course limited to that of the tree. If a tree in the forest dies, so does its etchings…eventually. So, archeologists are confined to perhaps a few hundred years with the tree carvings, unlike petroglyphs, which may date back thousands of years. According to the wonderful article written by Stephen Messenger for treehugger. com:
“Perhaps the most studied arborglyphs are the ones produced by Basque immigrants who left their native Pyrenees Mountains to work as shepherds throughout the western United States beginning in the mid-19th century. Because their occupation would have them alone for months at a time in some of the most remote forests, they took to perfecting the art of tree carving — leaving behind drawings and poetry delicately etched into the wood as living artifacts”.
(photo credit: Ken Proper)
(Photo Credit: University of Nevada
How cool is that? I have seen many hearts with arrows through them etched in trees, but I have never seen pictures carved in trees. Over the last several decades, there have been about 20,000 tree carvings across California, Nevada, and Oregon dating back to the turn of the last century recorded. Too bad trees don’t last forever. What a story that could be told!
Which brings me to a lesson I teach every year about the lost colony of Roanoke and a famous tree carving.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
On May 8, 1587, a group of 117 men, women and children left England to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. The colonist,s under the command of John White, headed for a destination on the Chesapeake Bay, but landed further south.
This colony on Roanoke Island was the first English settlement in the New World. White, then governor of the colony–left the settlement and returned to England to get more supplies. Because of England’s war with Spain, there were no ships to spare. Three years passed before John White could return to Roanoke Island with the supplies. When he finally returned to the colony in 1590, he found the island deserted. The only trace left by the colonists was a mysterious ‘cro‘ carved in a tree, and ‘croatoan‘ carved in a fence post. Croatoan was the name of the nearby island and a local tribe of Native Americans.
It is possible that some of the survivors of the Lost Colony of Roanoke may have joined the Croatans. Roanoke Island was not originally the planned location for the colony and the idea of moving elsewhere had been discussed.
In this case of tree carving, it was done for the purpose of relaying a message. There was no heart with an arrow through this one. But, in the end, it was etched in a tree and made the fourth grade history book ever since.
So, the next time you want to show your love by etching the big plus symbol between your name and the one you love, remember that announcement will last a couple of hundred years.
So, be sure of it.
(Photo credit: Unknown)