Cedars! Who Knew?

Who knew? Cedars. Probably just about everyone except me, but when I don’t know something, I like to go really big. Otherwise, what’s the point? So, you may remember my recent blog about getting to know different trees. Since then I have been slowly recognizing the trees around my neighborhood. They include beech trees, and we have some of the grandmothers of all beech trees. Their circumference is huge, at least several people can wrap their arms around them.

I was also pleased to meet the shyly pretty river birch, and the red and white pine. I know, you’re like, yeah, yeah, nice trees, but what about the cedar?

Well, cedar has always been exotic to me since I was a kid. I guess it’s because the few places I or my family visited were always in New England, and there was always a souvenir cedar box to be had with the name of the location on it. For years I treasured a cedar box my grandparents brought me from Old Orchard Beach, ME. What can I say, I didn’t get out much. I remembered it smelled so good, even years later.

My other memory of cedar is that one of my best friends growing up had a cedar closet in her house. This seemed very luxurious to me to have a room in your house that served one purpose, and since their family of 9 people lived in a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom cape, that’s saying something. To my mind, that cedar closet elevated their standing in the world — I mean you have a wonderful smelling room to shelter your winter woolens from moths. What’s ritzier that that? Its lesser known purpose was to shelter us from her older teen sisters when they were on the rampage, which was often. All it took was them discovering us playing a game of theirs they hadn’t played in years, or sometimes just our very presence could start the yelling and the chasing. That cedar closet saved our asses more than once.

Now, you’d think I’d have figured out that if there were closets and souvenirs, cedar must be at least a little common in New England. Nope. I never met one in person, and then I moved to the city for college and never left, so why would I find one there?

Several months ago I was watching a YouTuber called “Girl in the Woods.” She was explaining how to make no-fail fire starter that would work even when everything is wet. As a 4-season camper, that seems like a good thing for me to know. She was in the woods in Michigan making the video, and her first instruction was to find a cedar tree. Like it’s something people do every day.

I was like, find a cedar tree? She spotted one right off, but I was positive I had never seen a cedar tree in the northeast. I’m sure there was even a small part of my irrational childhood brain yelling, “You can’t find them in the woods — they are only in closets and souvenirs!” So I did what one does in these situations: I Googled, “Do cedar trees live in the northeast.” The short answer is yes. Native even.

OK, fine. I started looking for cedar trees in the Blue Hills Reservation not far from my house. 7,000 acres of woods and 125 miles of trails. They have to be there right? And they were. I found them accidentally. I was hiking on a trail, and there was a stand of trees off to the side that seemed darker, almost mysterious. The Blue Hills Reservation is beautiful, but let’s face it, it’s also plopped down in a pretty urban place. Even in the pitch dark you could find your way out by moving towards the sound of traffic. But this stand seemed different, wilder. Also the trail ran alongside it, not through it. Maybe there was something undiscovered there?

Well, undiscovered by me, yes. It was a swamp, only navigable because it was winter and iced over. And guess what trees were there? Cedars, many of them, big and small. I was in awe and amazed. Seemed like it was meant to be, right? Like something unseen was at work.

Perhaps, but what the real unseen thing was that I had failed to notice on my Blue Hills map a big area clearly marked “Great Cedar Swamp.” Oof. Like I said, when I don’t know something, I like to go big.

But that’s not the end of it. Once I had met the great cedars and could recognize them, I realized that in the city: They. Are. Everywhere. They are apparently a favorite of landscapers and floral designers. These suckers are in people’s yards as trees, bushes, and hedges, and hell, even branches stuck in decorative stone urns and winter window boxes. I realized I’ve assumed they were some kind of hemlock and never got close enough to see that the distinct overlapping leaf pattern was no hemlock.

So, of course, because I’m me, I started feeling robbed of my mystical experience in the swamp. In the Great Cedar Swamp. What’s so special about a tree that everyone knows and plants everywhere? Then I came across a tweet that said many Indigenous people consider the cedar tree sacred. This post by Raechel Bonomo on the significance of the cedar trees for Indigenous people and their many uses helped me untwist my panties a bit about it. In a world where forests and land is clear cut, cedar trees are appreciated by a lot of people and planted everywhere, so how is that a bad thing? Appreciating is the beginning of understanding, and that’s whole point of getting closer to nature isn’t it?

Plus, their wood did save my ass a plenty from the wrath of older teen girls. Cedar, I owe you one.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Sandy, great blog post! My mom’s house had a cedar closet in the basement—a basement that flooded
    a LOT. Kind of a weird choice there too! I just finished up the finishing touches on my series of six mosaic stepping stones featuring native New England trees—including your just-mentioned river birch and eastern white pine. The city of Medford is going to install them in Tufts Park in April. You’ll have to schedule a private tour, you tree hugger you!! And I know just who can be your tour guide. 😂

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