Oregon State Capitol Grounds II
Bill Long 7/22/07
Of Names and Trees
I noted some other names on plaques. There was one at the base of a Bur Oak tree dedicated to the memory of Governor Robert Straub, a Democrat during some of the more productive days of the Oregon legislature in the late 1970s. Thomas Vaughan, the executive director of the Oregon Historical Society for 35 years (1954-89), has a plaque commemorating his service at the foot of a Bradford Pear tree. Then I noted a Tupelo tree, the first one I ever recall seeing, planted in memory of former State Senator Frank Roberts, whose wife was governor when he died in 1993. I have learned that the tupelo tree is noticed for its beautiful fall foliage--the time of the year when Sen. Roberts died. By the way, Barbara Roberts has written a moving and insightful book, Death without Denial, Grief without Apology (Sage, 2002) about how she faced her husband's cancer recurrence and death. She credits Mid-Willamette Valley Hospice, where my x-wife now works, as a major force in helping her come to terms with and embrace both Frank's life and his death. Thus, when I stood before the Tupelo tree this afternoon, my memories rushed back to conversations I had with both Frank and Barbara in the 1980s, when I thought I was going to make public service in Oregon a major part of my life.
Some Capitol Grounds Trees
With all these swirling memories of people in my my mind, I decided to look more closely at the trees which fill the parks on either side of the Capitol building. There are, of course, ample selections of trees you would expect in Oregon--Douglas-firs and Coast Redwoods and Sequoiadendron Giganteum (Giant Sequoias) and Sweet Gums and Deodar Cedars and Camperdown Elms and Colorado Blue Spruce and assorted Dogwoods, but I was pleased to see some rarer trees which I would like to mention.
Most impressive to me was a small tree, the Birch Bark Cherry (Prunus serrula), dedicated by the Oregon Association of Nurserymen in 1989 to honor their longtime photographer Arthur Orans. What is so fantastic about this tree is that the bark "peels" like most birch trees but instead of yielding a color underneath that is nondescript or not memorable, the Birch Bark Cherry reveals the deepest, richest red on the planet. Here is a "close up" picture of the bark. I just wanted to keep running your fingers along the red of the bark, hoping, I suppose that the texture itself would rub off on me.
Nearby is a fairly rare Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair) tree. For a long time I kept getting the species name confused with the word "bilboa," but then when I realized that it describes the two-lobed leaves of this tree, I never made the mistake again. In a previous essay I spoke of the way that Governor Hatfield saved a Ginkgo biloba during the building of the Labor & Industries building. But I need to say something more at this point. All accounts of his saving of the Ginkgo biloba mention that there was one such tree at issue. Maybe this is true, but as I traipsed up and down next to the B & I buildiing today, I noted five of these trees. So, why is the one by the road the Hatfield tree? Mysteries galore.
I always love the Dawn Redwood, and there is one on the Capitol grounds (East side). These trees were only brought to America in 1948, so the height they have been able to attain has been accomplished since that time. When we moved from one CA home to another late in 1968, the home into which we moved had a Dawn Redwood in the front yard. As with the "Lawson's Cypress" (which Oregonians call the "Port Orford cedar"), so I learned to love the Dawn Redwood because I saw it every day when I left the house. Its reddish bark, coupled with finely textured bristles makes it a memorable tree.
There really isn't enough space for me to tell about why I love a Magnolia tree (the flowers and interior stamens are incredible) or why the Shag Hickory (with bark that grows in a shag-like form) or rare Grand Torreya (of the yew family) caught my eye. The Tulip tree just north of the workers' shed on Waverly St. is on the list of Salem heritage trees. There are other trees which catch attention, but this is enough for now.
Closing with the Moon Tree
Oregon is one of the few places in the West that has a "moon tree." It sounds more mysterious than is actually the case. When Apollo XIV went into space in 1971, Commander Stuart Roosa brought with him hundreds of tree seeds. The US Forest Service was put in charge of the project and selected seeds from five types of trees: Loblolly Pines, Sycamore, Sweet Gum, Redwood and Douglas Fir. "Control" seeds were kept on earth for later comparison--to see if earth and "space" seeds still grew at the same rate. Well, there was an accident with the seeds (thankfully, the astronauts were all safe!) and the seed cannisters burst during decontamination exercises. Most thought that the seeds wouldn't "take root."
Well, many did. Two were planted in the southern part of Oregon (Cave Junction), which was the place where Stuart Roosa had begun his career as a smokejumper in 1954. Both of these trees subsequently died. But one was planted in the Oregon Capitol Grounds in 1976 (bicentennial year), and it has lasted through the 31 years in great shape. It is a Douglas Fir, and is located just North of the Walk of the Flags on the West side of the Capitol Building. Here is an article on the "Moon Trees."
I still have time today to return to the basketball courts on Court Street and the Salem Art Fair in Bush Pasture Park. I will enjoy those scenes, to be sure. But the most memorable part of this weekend by far for me were my walks through the Capitol Grounds. Though I think the Capitol Foundation board could improve the brochure which lists some of the trees and other objects on the Capitol Grounds (perhaps they should commission someone to write a book where all the trees are discussed, as well as the people, the flora and other interesting aspects of the history, people and natural surroundings of the Capitol), I feel fortunate to have enjoyed the life of the Capitol grounds. It, indeed, is one of the jewels of Salem.