We’ve all seen those “Best” surveys around town. “Voted best pizza, veterinarian, gym, nail salon” . . . fill in the blank.
My quest was to locate the “best tree to hug when you need a friend.”
This kooky desire to embrace a tree—whether for comfort or in jubilation—arose some years back during tours of various Northern California parks featuring giant sequoias. Like a great dad, the trees appeared steadfast, solid, sheltering.
Little kids need to cling to someone or something during stressful times. I’m all grown up, but I’m still little-kid-size and susceptible to bouts of insecurity.
I know people who run or do yoga to cope, but big trees work for me as a calming aid. At those parks up north, unfortunately, there’d always be a frowning ranger nearby to suggest I show restraint and maybe learn to meditate instead.
I must’ve passed by my local candidate for “best” huggable tree a zillion times.
I used to live in First Neighborhood in Westlake Village and spent a lot of time with my dog at Berniece Bennett Park and walking the Westlake greenbelts. The tree—a Quercus ilex, or holly oak, native to the Mediterranean region—was always there behind the First Neighborhood community center, but it jumped out at me this spring.
The oak resembles a typical kindergartner’s representation of a tree: straight stout trunk balancing a big floppy green mushroom cap. Its trunk rises about 7 to 8 feet and has bark suggesting a parched river bed, muddy brown and deeply furrowed. Then the trunk bursts into limbs swimming off in every direction to create an undulating, far-flung yet beautifully balanced canopy. That balanced look is likely the result of sensitive pruning.
This is not a sedate looking tree—it’s dynamic, a portrait of vim and vigor. The oak’s long, long branches dip and rise. Remember the sinuous female Indian python, Kaa, in Jon Favreau’s version of “The Jungle Book”? As a serpent, she would’ve had a blast slinking through the amazing array of serpentine limbs.
I glanced at the tree. A great tumult in my life had just happened, leaving me on shaky ground. One glance at Bennett Park’s holly oak made the ground stop shaking.
I walked up to the tree, wrapped my short arms around the trunk as far as they would go and let the rough bark imprint a crusty kiss on my waiting cheek.
Then I noticed there’s a stone bench beneath the oak that bears a plaque reading, “In loving memory of our dear Margie . . . Margaret Guerin Barut 1959-2000 . . . from her family and friends.”
Please be sure to hug Margie’s tree the next time you’re having a tough go of things. I’d like to believe dear Margie’s soul inhabits this awesome oak.
Glasser is a freelance writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.