Trees of the University of Oregon I
Bill Long 8/27/07
Groovin' on a Monday Afternoon
I seem to remember a time when not only secondary schools began in September but when universities generally started their year around September 20. Nowadays, because everyone wants to finish the first semester before the holidays, nearly every university begins in August, and I have even heard of grade school beginning before the middle of August. Not so in Eugene, OR. It is August 27 today, and classes will not begin again at the U of O until Sept. 24. Workmen were feverishly working on a number of projects today as I visited my son and decided to work through some of the maps in the the utterly fantastic Atlas of Trees (108 maps) put out by the University Planning office. These maps locate and identify the 3,000+ trees (more than 500 species or hybrids) on campus.
But as I follow campus guides to trees I learn far more about the campus than I ever knew previously. I learn the precise position of every campus building and the way that the land rises and falls. I get dozens of "angles" of campus, where I see buildings and lawns like I have never seen them previously. As I linger before the trees, identifying them, studying them, I realize that the different trees give a subtly different "flavor" to various areas of campus.
The "Flavor" of Campus
For example, in front of the music department (Map # 98) droops the only Salix babylonica (Weeping Willow) on campus. The willow is surrounded by native or very widely cultivated Oregon trees, such as the Quercus rubrum (Northern Red Oak) or the Liriodendron tulipifera (Tulip Tree), thus giving one entering into that department a sense of both the foreign and domestic, the call of Oregon with the hint of other worlds and realities.
In contrast to this is the colorful and varied courtyard of the Education building. I call the "tree walk" (Map # 69) which includes this courtyard my "fantastic 38," since there were 38 trees on that walk both within and outside of the Education School's courtyard. But when I sat on one of the benches under the colonnaded and shaded porch and looked out on the trees before me, I was brought into other worlds. I completely lost the sense that I was in Oregon, both because of the architecture and the presence of "foreign trees": i.e., two Parrotia persica (Persian Parrotias), two Kousa dogwoods, a Syringa reticulata (Japanese lilac tree), an Ulmus americana (American elm), an Acer griseum (Paperbark maple), four arrestingly colorful Lagerstroemia indica (Crape myrtles), and two Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsuras). As I looked out to the varied shapes and colors before me, it was as if I was transported to a time many years ago, where I recalled my own graduate school training, and I so much wished for those who studied in these halls in Eugene to feel the same depth and passion of commitment to what they were doing that I recall feeling many years ago.
If these two venues on campus gave me certain feelings, I got a completely different "feel" when I was going through Maps # 21 and 22 around the old Deady and Villard Halls. These two buildings, the oldest on campus, hug Franklin Avenue and were, originally, at the entrance to the University. Now, the University really has no front door; urban planning and design have removed the significance of these buildings and not replaced it with anything else.*
[*This is unfortunately true, also, of Oregon State University in Corvallis. The "grand gates" are on 11th street between Monroe and Jefferson, but you only go through those gates if you make a concerted and planned effort to do that. The long "entryway" to the main gates at OSU through a row of Japanese flowering cherry trees, flanked by Sweet Gums, Horsechestnuts and London Planetrees is now not a real entrance].
But as I was focusing my energy this afternoon on trees surrounding those two halls, it was as if I was brought back into Oregon's deep past, to the days when Matthew Deady sat on the federal bench of Oregon (1859-1893) or the days that Henry Villard bequeathed a substantial sum to the fledgling university and was honored by having the hall named after him (early 1880s). The sense of "Oregonness" is heightened by occasional plaques in the ground, talking about the class of 1907's gift of a long walkway between Douglas-firs to Deady Hall, or an 1897 gift of a Quercus garryana (Oregon White Oak) which seemed to have been struck by lightning or wind recently, since a large part is sheared off and there are small garryana seedlings planted all around, where the former sentinels of the campus once stood.
I decided to sit on the steps of Villard Hall and look East across a large lawn of tall trees. These were the tallest trees of campus, and they "dripped" (figuratively, not literally) with a deep Oregon past. There were Quercus garryana; Calocedrus decurrens (California Incense Cedar); Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas-fir) without number; Picea sitchensis (Sitka spruce); Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar); Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (Port Orford Cedar); Cedrus deodara (Deodar Cedars); Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Sequoia); Ginkgo biloba (Ginkgo); and Acer macrophyllum (Big Leaf Maple). There also were a bunch of magnolias and dogwoods, but the overwhelming feeling I had looking out over this wide field of trees was that I was connected to Oregon's past, almost immersed in another world which reluctantly was coming forward to 2007. Someone ought to sit among these trees and in the presence of these two buildings and write a book on the early history of the University of Oregon or the State of Oregon. There is probably no other place in the state where that early history can be "felt" in such a powerful way.
I managed to make it through 10 of the 108 tree maps today, even though I don't believe I have thorougly mastered every tree which I encountered. I will have occasion to mention some of them in the next essay. And, indeed, I will be going map by map to help the Planning Office as it tries to make an even better edition of the Atlas of Trees for the future. But for now I want to say that the feelings I experienced today, primarily because of the presence of the trees (and to a lesser extent, the architecture), have both sunk my soul into Oregon and have permitted my heart to take wing and fly to the furthest points of the earth. The trees, friends, have taught me this.