Steve's Yarns-- All those years growing up and living
in Oklahoma, California, Arizona, Texas, and Africa.....
Ain't done growing up 'til I get over on the other side :-)

Steve Van Nattan




"Trees I have Known"

By Steve Van Nattan








Some people climb mountains. Some people climb buildings. And, some people climb fences and end up in jail.

I like to climb trees. Of course, in recent years, I have had to curtail my climbing a bit. When I go up a ladder to clean out the eve gutters, one of my kids calls out, "Dad, promise me you will not get up on the roof." That is the price one pays for getting old.

My Dad needed work during the Great Depression years, so he looked up for help, and the Lord said, "Right, now look just a bit lower." Dad did, and Voile, there was a palm tree. It was shaggy, it was ugly, and it stood at the curb in front of a nice home in Los Angeles. Dad rustled up some climbing gear, and off he went, or, up he went. Dad made some good money during the Depression pruning palm trees in Los Angeles. Along with the challenge of trying to avoid falling off the tree, palm trees are filthy, that is, the bundle of dead limbs at the top which have died down. And, that bundle of dead leaves is loaded with cockroaches.


What is it about climbing trees that gets into a boy's soul?

First, there is the thrill of being way up yonder above the masses and wimps who are too scared (or too wise) to climb a tree. There is a very macho virile moment in a young boy's (and some young girl's) early years when a nearby tree simply screams at him, "Come up here, I will make a man of you."

Second, there is the view. Dad and Mom look at art or read poetry. Boys hang at the top of a tree and look at the real thing.

Third, it is all about survival. A boy hears all the hunting stories of the old men, and he hears about the close calls with death and disaster from "the big guys." So, he looks around for some way to one-up the old men. He says he wants to climb a tree nearby, and invariably some wise old man says, "You be careful, son. I broke my leg falling out of one of them oak trees." That is the challenge. "I will climb it, but I will not fall out of it." And, usually he doesn't.

Danny was about five. In his yard there was a very old apple tree. Danny decided he would climb it like the other boys. He wisely did not ask permission from his Daddy because his Daddy would have said No. Well, in a while Daddy heard a wail go up from Jerusalem. He looked out the dining room window, and Danny was holding his arm and raising his voice in a pain. Daddy went outside and told Danny, "Stop hollering. You will be all right." Danny sort of stopped crying, but Daddy decided to take a look. There was an S curve in Danny's wrist, and Daddy suddenly panicked also. Broken. Then, Daddy felt horrible for telling Danny to get over it. I still cringe when I tell the story.

So, let us now hug a tree, the one CREATED by God, and remember, the Bible says about Jesus Christ, "Without him was not anything made (trees) that was made." But, any young people reading here need to consider the story of Danny above. There is risk involved in tree ventures.



My tree climbing days started in Los Angeles when I was a wee little brat. My Mom would take the street car to visit friends, and many of them had fig trees. Mom would visit, and when she was engrossed in the latest gossip, I would slip out the door into the back yard and explore.

If there was a fig tree, I would at once check the lower branches to find figs. Every time this happened, I would eat every fig I could reach. Next, I would climb into the tree. Fig trees often branch out very low to the ground, and this worked just great this young brat. I loved figs, and I still do.

Soon, Mom would miss me, and she knew where to look. There would be a great cry go up from Mom, for she knew what was coming.

She would usually cancel any other shopping or visits for the day and rush home at once. Soon after arriving at home, Mom would start asking me, "Do you have to go?" I would eventually say I did, and from then on I would be parked on the toilet because I was totally out of control. Figs are that way. They make a regular guy of you.

Well, I still love figs all these years later. I have a fig tree in my front yard here in Texas, and it is beginning to produce. I also rejoice that, during the Kingdom reign of Messiah Christ.....

Micah 4:4 But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.



Stevie lived in Briartown, Oklahoma where his Daddy was a missionary pastor to people still not out of the sorrows of the Great Depression. The rest of the country was coming back to life, but along the river bottoms of middle America, life was still hard times. But, Stevie was too young to know about hard times. He thought life was very good, and his Daddy made the struggle disappear by making it an adventure. You see, Stevie's family had to live on missionary support of $70 a month in 1950.

You can read about Stevie's days in Briartown elsewhere in this Yarns section. For now, we will look at some of the adventures Stevie loved in Oklahoma. One of the most exciting adventures was to go into the woods with Mom or Dad for free food. Dad would pile up twigs in the woods nearby by using tree branches left from people cutting fire wood. Then, in the winter, rabbits would make burrows in the piles of twigs to keep warm. Dad would take his 22 caliber rifle on a bright sunny day and go into the woods after a good snowfall. He would stomp on a pile of twigs, and out would pop a rabbit, blinded by the bright sun on the snow. Dad would then shoot the rabbit, and that was the entree for supper. It was all a great adventure to Stevie, but it was 100% about survival to Dad.

In Oklahoma, dirt roads were almost all we had. Also, Oklahoma is flat. So, the only way to drain the roads during rainy times was for road graders to run along the side of the road. They kept the two right wheels up on top of the bank, and the two left wheels on the road. They dropped the grader blade as deep as possible at an angle, and dirt was pulled out of the ditch onto the road and later leveled. This left a very deep "grader ditch," and these ditches turned into small rivers during heavy rain storms. If you slipped off the road on a rainy day, as we did once in our 1939 Plymouth, the ditch would totally swallow up the car. Imagine the ditch in this video being so deep a car could fit into it.

The great thing about this process was that the grader would rip away the roots of trees near the road, exposing them. If it was a sassafras tree, the root bark would be left hanging and easy to collect. Stevie loved to go with Mom and harvest sassafras root bark to make sassafras tea. People in that part of Oklahoma thought sassafras tea was a real treat. Stevie is 74 now, and he orders his sassafras from Missouri and uses it to barbecue. The smoke flavor is second to none.

Mom would also take Stevie, along with a big basket, and they would go into the meadows along the Canadian River and collect wild onions. Wild garlic is useful, but wild onions are sweet, not too hot, and full of flavor. Stevie had no idea how to be a connoisseur at his young age, but he would take wild onion salad over just about anything else for a treat at dinner time. Mom used sheers to cut the onion tops, and Stevie held the basket and munched on onions as they went along. Mom told Stevie, many years later, that he actually sweat onion smell and sometimes reeked during Sunday evening service.

Dad put a "trot line" across the Canadian River to catch fish. A trot line is a line tied to two trees on opposite sides of the river with hooks tied to the line about the length of a horse trot apart. The hooks were baited, and cat fish would get caught and could be harvested later. Be sure it is legal in your state if you try this, and mark your line for people who go fishing in the river. Fish was a real treat, but Stevie was terrified of swallowing a bone, and the poor kid is still terrified of fish bones at age 74. Dad gigged frogs also, and THAT was a super treat. Frog legs were considered gourmet eating among river bottom people, and Dad and his men friends would go gigging for frogs at night together. They used a flashlight to spot the bright eyes of a frog and hypnotize it. Then, they were easy to gig. It was also easy to gig a water moccasin that way, so attention to detail was needed.


But, Stevie's most potent memory in all these adventures was the pecan trees along the Canadian river. They stood with their roots in the high water table, so they grew to an enormous height. Stevie would have told you that those trees reached all the way to Heaven, but they were probably around 80 feet tall. They were easily taller than any other living thing in Oklahoma. Stevie would help his Mom pick up pecans, and these went into pecan pie later. Mom's pecan pie did not have just one layer of pecan halves on top of a thick layer of sickening sweet goo. Mom made pecan pies that were solid pecans and just enough goo to act as mortar to hold it together. This is still Stevie's favorite, although he now says, "I never met a pie I did not like." Cake is OK, and ice cream is a blessing, but pie is for those who live right and appreciate the finer things in life.

But, those pecan trees..... Stevie would lay on the ground and look up at the pecan trees and think about Jack and the Bean Stalk, or climbing Jacob's ladder. Stevie thought the pecan trees were giants and should be respected. Years later, Stevie stood next to General Sherman, the world's largest tree, and wondered at the giant in God's garden. It was 275 feet tall, a lot taller than the Oklahoma pecan trees, but General Sherman has one serious defect..... you could not make pie out of it.

During the Kingdom reign of Jesus Christ the Messiah, the Bible says, Revelation 20:6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. Somehow, Jesus will ask us who have confessed faith in him to help him rule the world. If it is OK with the King Messiah, Jesus Christ, I would be happy to be the caretaker of a section along the Canadian River..... and eat pecan pie.




Stevie was in third grade. He lived in the west end of the Mojave Desert near Palmdale, California in a desert town named Quartz Hill. There really was a hill of quartz nearby. Stevie's Dad was the pastor of a small church in town, and Stevie and his family lived in a small house on a chicken ranch. More on that later.

Stevie had several friends his age in the church, and he would be invited by their parents to go visit them. One family had a huge apricot orchard. Stevie and the boy of the family would run in the orchard and climb the trees. They made up a tale of suspense and terror as they ran through the trees..... something about Tarzan rescuing fair damsels. The only other way Stevie knew how to let his imagination go wild was to listen on the radio every afternoon to Yukon King, The Lone Ranger, the Cisco Kid, and Clyde Baitey's Circus. TV was still in a wretched state and terribly expensive. Besides that, Stevie's Dad hated TV because it destroyed good conversation.

One day, Stevie was invited to go visit the family with the apricot orchard. Stevie and the other boy ran for the trees, and what do you imagine they saw? Every tree was loaded with huge gorgeous apricots, and some were so ripe that if you touched them they fell off the stem into you hand. The boy told Stevie that his parents' rule was that we could eat all we wanted, but no fruit fights. So, we sat up in a tree and picked apricots that were nearly red with ripeness. They were also a lot like figs in the effect they had on the alimentary system.

Stevie cannot be accused of never doing his part to extend the cause of civil rights. He started one of the most powerful liberation movements in history that day. In fact, he was so liberated that he spent the whole next day within fifteen feet of the potty. And, Dad and Mom just laughed and showed no sympathy.

So, if you come on an apricot tree loaded with ripe apricots, beware. There is a power in those lovely orange fruits. Do show some restraint.




Greet Tree was the name of an unidentified tree at our boarding school, Rift Valley Academy, in the Kenya Highlands. It was at the far end of the circle in front of the school.

This tree had already been a favorite of many students over the years before my parents enrolled me in the school. What was so special about Green Tree? The tree was perfect for swinging from limb to limb round and round the tree. The placement of the limbs were perfect. It also hid the kids playing in it very well, so this gave a feeling of disappearing into anonymity. Being alone and hidden is hard to do in a boarding school.

The girls were allowed to climb Green Tree also, and there were several who flew around the tree like monkeys. Maggie was one of these. Every once in a while one of the guys would fall out of the tree, and several times broken wrists were the result. But, the Principal never tried to limit who could climb into Green Tree. You see, long ago kids were allowed to do stupid things. It usually did no serious harm, and they learned some important life lessons.

One day some Masai morana (warriors) came to the school. Our school was in the Kikuyu tribal territory, so the Masai usually stayed out of the school area and kept to the floor of the Rift Valley. But, by my day tribal warring and cattle rustling had ended, and the Masai would come around mostly out of curiosity. The morana warriors were permitted to make pests of themselves until they were older and were inducted into the elder class of men.

These Masai warriors were carrying their simi (long double edged knife) and their bows and arrows. We chatted with them for a while, and we asked them to demonstrate their bows and arrows. They agreed, and they all shot an arrow across the big circle dead center in the Green Tree. We were impressed. The bows were a simple design, and they were very hard to pull. These Masai men were extremely fit and proud of it. They loved to show off their abilities. They also did a jumping dance for us.

My favorite use of Green Tree was to perch on one side where I could see the soccer field on Field Day. Field Day was the day near the end of a term when two "houses" of kids had all sorts of sports competition. I was a member of Livingston House, and the enemy was Stanley House. The "houses" were named after the missionary David Livingston and Henry Mortimer Stanley who explored Africa and found Livingston.

I would perch in Green Tree and watch the soccer game and the field events. On Field Day there was a refreshment booth set up with Cokes, candy, and sometimes hot dogs or hamburgers. The Principal also set up a PA system to announce the events, and while it was idle, it played huge studio sized 17 RPM records which the Principal had gotten from the Voice of America. The music was band and marching music with some patriotic music as well.

The best Field Day event for me was the big guys' soccer game. We had a student who was Finish named Hans Nyman. His father owned a match factory up on the hill above the school, and the Nyman kids were allowed to attend RVA, even though their parents were not missionaries. They rode horses to school every day. Hans was the star of the soccer game. He would run full tilt down the field dribbling the ball and never lose it. When he was going full steam, he actuary settled down much closer to the ground as his legs flew out in all directions. He was not a star striker, so the forwards had to finish the performance for Hans. It was a show, and best of all, Hans was a fellow member of Livingston House. And, I was in Green Tree cheering Hans on.

In later years, on Field Day, I tried my hand at the javelin toss. I was fair, but the cost of mastery of the javelin is a very sore head. You see, when you toss the thing, if you don't get it off just right, the tail end of the javelin will flip down and bang you on the back of the head.

I wanted to toss the hammer too, but there were some beefy boys bigger than me, and size is everything with the hammer. If you toss the hammer, and if you are a bit on the light side, the hammer tends to try to toss you. It is a case of the tail wagging the dog. So, I spent hours tossing the javelin and the discus.

I suspect Green Tree may have died by now or been cut down. Progress is a deadly invention, and the trees in Africa are no longer immune from progress, whatever that is. The above tree is on the campus of Rift Valley Academy, but I am not sure it is THE Green Tree of this story.



As you stand on the verandah of the school building at Rift Valley Academy and look out over the Rift Valley, to the left is a line of cedar trees. I don't know where they came from. They were astoundingly tall, maybe as much as seventy feet. They seemed to be different than other cedar trees in the area. I loved to climb trees, so it one day occurred to me that I could climb one of those trees.

It also occurred to me that falling out of the tree was not an option, at least if I wanted to claim to have reached the tip top. Also, I realized that the best plan was not to ask permission but to apologize later if I was considered too young to climb that high. I was in about sixth grade.

So, I managed to get up to the first limb, and the rest was all about moving very cautiously upward. As with all cedars, there was sap oozing out of the tree in many places, and I ended up a sticky mess. But, I managed to reach the top, at least the point at which the tree top started swinging around a bit from my weight.

Now, the best part. I made myself comfortable, at least sort of, and I began to look at the world from above. My Dad had given me a sense of wonder, and I could always take in plenty of choice memories at such times. I was so high I could see over the big main building of the school. The Great Rift Valley to the south was much bigger from my perch in that tree, and I will not accept your claims that this is impossible unless you climb the tree yourself and disprove me by valid research. Mount Logonot, a volcano in the middle of the Rift Valley, was much bigger from up there also. Here is another adventure on Mount Longonot.

Climbing down is always harder than climbing up. I actually got a bit nervous for a kid my age, and when I finally jumped back down on the ground, I was actually shaking, which sixth graders never do in mixed company. I determined that I should never do that again. About a week later, I reconsidered, and I decided I had survived one climb..... why not a second. There were many climbs over the next year or so, and then I started hiking in the forests above the school, and the cedar trees seemed a bit benign.

As I think back, and in my mind's eye see myself in the top of that tree, swaying this way and that, I cringe. The Apostle Paul said, 1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. Now, I want to make something very clear here. Being childish is NOT a bad thing, but only if you are a child. Being an adult and acting childish is a good way to get yourself a very bad reputation. Let you children be childish and enjoy their childhood. It will be over all too soon, and you need to let them have some memories of childish adventure and self-entertainment.

I am not suggesting letting your children be disgusting and rude. But, when a kid hops through a puddle and splatters himself all up, consider please..... soon he will be restrained and civilized. What if he never hops through a puddle? There will be no such memories, and Grandpa and Grandma will not have those cool stories to tell the grandkids about how their Daddy liked to cover himself in mud on a rainy day.

I am ending this section on the cedar trees with a scene of jacaranda trees. They are strictly tropical. These trees put out their flowers before the leaves appear, so the whole tree is lavender blue in color, and later the ground looks like it is covered with lavender snow as the flowers drop. I delighted in climbing a jacaranda tree in full bloom and looking at the world through the flowers. The scene below is probably from Australia, what with driving on the left. And, I promise you, this photo has not been edited. That is exactly what these trees look like.



A missionary in Tanzania went on furlough, and the mission he was with assigned another missionary family to live in their home until they returned to the field after a year. The missionary temporarily assigned to the home took one look at the trees around the mission station, and he decided they were a mess. No two trees were alike.

So, he set about to cut down most of the trees and leave a few standing. This all made good sense to the green horn missionary. He did think it was unusual when some Indians from India came by and offered him a huge sum of money for one of the trees he had cut down. But, he was happy to sell it if they wanted it bad enough.

The original family came back to Tanzania after furlough, and what do you think they found. The old missionary's whole orchard of rare spice and nut trees had been slaughtered. Worst of all, the cinnamon tree was gone. The trees were all highly valuable, and some were rare.

Moral- ASK, STUPID. Most Africans in the area could have told the new missionary that the trees were very special. The idiot did not ask.



Rift Valley Academy was located on a 700 acre mission station of the Africa Inland Mission. The railroad ran along the north uphill side of the station, but there was actually some land owned by the mission which was on the upper forest side of the rails. This odd bit of land was never developed, and it backed onto dense highland forest. The forest was all uphill from the mission station, and this whole escarpment was the north side of the Great Rift Valley and was about twenty miles in distance up hill. The forest came out onto rolling country at about 9000 feet altitude.

This forest was dense, but being at high altitude, it was not a rain forest of jungle. When most of the boys got to about the ninth grade, they would hike into the forest. Some only played along the railway with all the adventures involved there. I got to the age that I wanted to wander, and the forests above the mission station were my favorite haunt.

During the Mau Mau "Emergency," which was really a war between the Kikuyu tribe and British officials, we were not allowed to go even as far as the railway. We often went anyway, but God was merciful to us brats and kept us safe. As the Mau Mau battle ended, around 1957, we could wander farther into the forest, and I started spending many afternoons in the forest.

The forest was heavily covered by very tall wild olive trees. There were many other trees I did not know about, there were wild banana trees, and there were thickets of vines and wait-a-bit thorns. If I blundered into the wait-a-bit thorns, the fish hook thorns would attach to my clothes, and I was stopped dead in my tracks. This meant pulling the thorned branches off my clothes one thorn at a time.

I usually took my US Marine war surplus paratrooper's folding knife with me. I kept it sharp, and I delighted in cutting down a wild banana tree in one swipe. These wild bananas did not bear fruit, so I saw no problem with practicing my fighting form. When you are young, macho is politically correct. When you get older, the wilds of nature start looking like they could use some preserving and restraint.

There were fire breaks running up the escarpment from the railway to the top. These were because the British government did not have the funds to field fire engines to put out forest fires. So, the fire breaks were there to stop any fire which started. I would start running down the fire break and try to keep upright while gaining speed. When I finally was moving too fast to keep my legs under me, I would veer off into the brush on the side of the fire break. This usually worked fine, but when there was a big patch of wait-a-bit thorns there, I was in serious trouble.

All us guys always carried a sling shot. We made them ourselves from inner tube rubber. Don't use modern inner tube rubber to make a sling shot today. It is synthetic rubber and totally lacks a real snap. Most of the guys were very good with them, and we would shoot marbles at monkeys in the trees. The forest was full of plantain eaters, a large green bird which made an impressive flash of green in the forest top when it flew by. There were colobus monkeys also, and we loved to chase them. I chased a pack of these monkeys toward a cliff, and they all ran out on a shelf on the side of the cliff. I went right on after them, creeping along the shelf. When they reached the point where the shelf ended, they were cornered. They all turned and bared their teeth at me. I had thought I would shoot them with my sling shot, but seeing all those sets of teeth inspired me to back out of there fast.

There were leopards in the forest, but I never saw one. Artie Davis saw one one day. He was walking on a fire break, and when he rounded a corner, there was a leopard sitting on the path staring at him. This is not good. One way to avoid trouble with a leopard is to not lock eye contact with him. The leopard jumped into the under brush, but Artie knew that leopards have a tendency to parallel you as you walk along if they think you might be an enemy. So, Artie ran all the way back to the dorm room, and when he came through the door, he nearly took it off the hinges. His eyes were big, and he looked terrified. I knew something was seriously wrong because it took a lot to spook Artie.

I seldom met Africans in the forest. Africans, at least in the 1950s, did not wander through the forest to amuse themselves like we Anglo Saxons do. When I did meet an African, he was almost always making charcoal somewhere nearby, or he was on his way to market. Charcoal was made by piling limbs up and covering the pile with humus to control the burn. The wood was lit, and a number of days later, the wood would all be turned to charcoal.

When my wife Elizabeth and I want to Kenya years later to do missionary work, I revisited the forest alone. It was very much unchanged which made me feel good, and I see on Google maps that the forest I hiked in is still preserved and mostly unchanged. I also hiked below the mission station in lighter forest and walked the old right of way of the Uganda Railway which became the East African Railway later. I found an old telegraph wire insulator from England dated before 1899, and I found an old spike for holding the rails to the ties.

We boys all thought we could read sign like Africans, but we were deluded. We did read sign fair, but the Africans could tell you what animal went by a spot a week ago, it limped on its left front leg, and it was in rut. We all tried to learn the ways of our African mentors, and forest craft was one of them.

And, since we are talking about trees, the character of any forest was in its trees. The wild olive trees were giants, and they formed a canopy over the forest like a cathedral. I will not try to sound pious and tell you I felt closer to God because of the forest, but hiking in the forest may have been somewhat sanctifying. There is a lot of trouble a young man can get into which is absent in a really wild forest. I did like the feeling that I left the forest without feeling any guilt.



Mr. Giddings taught us Bible during school hours, and he taught calculus, solid geometry, and trigonometry. But, Mr. Giddings was most famous for his love of the kids. He would take us on hikes, especially us boys. He always tried to pick a destination which would be unknown to any of us, including himself. He must have been good at woodcraft because he never got us lost.

Mr. Giddings took a group of us up into the forest one Saturday. I thought it would be a bit boring because I hiked in the forest all the time. But, he found some areas that were startling. There were meadows with nothing but bright green grass. This was rare in the Kenya forests. Trees usually dominated. He also suggested we return to the school through a bamboo forest.

What fun. A bamboo forest is always extremely tightly packed with bamboo. Bamboo is in the grass family, so it grows close, and getting through bamboo is tricky. It is necessary to slip this way and that and turn sideways often to get through. We were slowly making our way downhill toward the railway tracks, and Phil Skoda said, "I can't get through here. It looks like a wall."

Well, it was a wall. We all got close and began to speculate. Finally, someone looked past the end of the wall of bamboo, and there was another wall at right angle. We then found a door in another wall, and we then realized it was a small hut in the middle of the bamboo forest. There was no African who would live that way without a very good reason. The reason quickly became obvious. This was a Mau Mau hideout, and it was abandoned since the "Emergency" Mau Mau rebellion had been over for a year.

The problem was, some of the Mau Mau never gave up and refused to turn themselves in for the amnesty the British offered. These hold outs lived in the forests, and they did everything possible to not be seen of caught. So, Mr. Giddings became visibly nervous as he realized it was somewhat possible that Mau Mau still frequented this hide out. We all decided to scurry on off through the bamboo.

I have always regretted that we did not dig up the floor of the hide out. The Mau Mau were known to bury guns in the ground for future use, and they also made guns from bicycle frames. These improvised guns were real collector's items in later years. How much would you pay me to take you back to the bamboo forest?



Phil Skoda and I were at times co-conspirators. We both had an aversion to soccer if we had to actually play it for physical education class. We preferred to watch it. So, during Physical Education class we convinced Ted Honer to let us do alternate sports. So, we asked to play ping pong, and we got to be pretty good at it.

One day, I saw a kei apple tree below the school in an open area, and it was covered with ripe kei apples. Kei apples are not really apples. I have no idea what their heritage is, but they have a great flavor and are intensely sour. Usually, kei apples were planted to be pruned and controlled so that they turn into hedges. The reason they are made into hedges is that kei apple plants have very long thorns, and a hedge of these plants is impossible to crawl through. So, they make a great security barrier.

But, the tree was in a natural situation, and it was possible to climb into it and pick kai apples. The kai apples in hedges were big enough, but even when ripe they tasted like green fruit due to the unnatural pruning into hedges. The ones in the tree were sour but had a clean fruity flavor.

I told Phil Skoda about the tree, and we both went to case it out. It occurred to one of us that the ripe kai apples tasted much better than the ones that grew on hedges. So, we took some to Mrs. Senoff, the girls' dorm parent who also managed the kitchen of the school. She tasted one, and having grown up on the farm in Canada, and having made preserves from wild berries and fruit, she declared that the kai apples were perfect for making jelly.

Phil and I took a huge pan to the tree and picked it full of kai apples. Mrs. Sen. then cooked them down and made jelly of them. The jelly was astounding, and we were all tired of nothing to plum and strawberry jam for breakfast. Phil and I thought the kids would be pleased.

They were not. Almost all of our friends turned up their noses at this new flavor.

Even though our school friends grew up in Africa, many of them did not absorb into the culture very well. One way this worked itself out was that these sort of kids were very picky about food. I had NO sympathy for them. They turned their noses up as avocados, home made cottage cheese, fig jam, and corn pudding and other things I cannot recall. So, Trum Simmons and I, and usually Phil, would make sure the cottage cheese, fig jam, and avocados were all eaten up. I ate nothing but a bowl of fig jam for breakfast, when it was served, and I was thus well regulated that day.

Trum and I split the cottage cheese in half and usually ate nothing else that meal. The corn pudding was hard to polish off because it was the main dish. Our strategy was to make it appear that the kids actually liked these items so that the kitchen hostess would not get discouraged and drop these luxuries. We also flattered and thanked the hostess profusely when any of these items appeared on the table. This helped hide the fact that few of the kids liked them.

Well, what do you suppose happened with the kai apple jelly? Almost none of these primo don diddle heads would eat it. Phil and I thought it was fantastic, so we ate all the jelly at our table and from three other tables, and we told Mrs. Senoff that the jelly was very well received. We did not bother to tell her that only Phil and I were the ones who received it well. Actually, I believe Trum Simmons also liked the jelly, and our eagerness enticed several other guys to try it.

The other item I recall which met with disdain was the peas. I happen to be mad about peas. The problem was, the Africans who grew the peas did not pick them early and tender like we Anglos do. Africans cannot see picking anything, especially peas and corn, until they are as big as possible. The logic is very sound because they get more food that way. So, the peas the school got were huge and tough. Most of the kids whined about the tough peas. Not me. I would empty whatever was left over, at the end or the meal, into a bag, salt them down well, and carry it to my room. I would eat peas like peanuts for a couple of days.

Peas also made great ammo for shooting through a curtain rod. I got so good at curtain rod ballistics that I once shot a pea into the garden near the school, and I hit one of the dorm mothers in the fanny just as she bent over to pick some flowers. I honestly did not do it on purpose because I could not see the lady, but I certainly did not go and try to explain either.



Cedar is usually trained into lovely trees, but it can be trimmed and controlled so that it forms huge soft looking hedges. At Rift Valley Academy, the boarding school I attended in Kenya, we had cedar hedges running along most of the pathways. These had been attractive, I suppose, in the early years, but the school was 50 years old by the time I arrived there, and the cedar hedges were huge. They were about eight feet wide and seven feet high.

But, the hedges were not aesthetic to us kids. They were a great place to burrow and hide. There were tunnels we had hollowed out down the middle of most hedges, and we delighted in crawling through the hedges and popping out the other end. Some of us found the hedges useful to hide in when we were being pursued by a staff member after some dastardly prank we had done.

The hedges were also useful in the night time. The restrooms for the boys dorm were outside the main building, and it was a bit of a walk to get there. So, we resorted to what we called "hedging." The hedge became a surrogate urinal in the dead of night. Occasionally, several of us would have a peeing contest to see who could pee all the way over the hedge. The problem was, some hedges started reeking pretty badly, and the boys' dorm parent had to break up our primitive potty traditions.

Some of you reading here have grown up in an antiseptic politically correct world in the USA or Europe. People simply must not do socially upsetting things like peeing in a hedge in the dark. I do apologize for not consulting with you and your nanny adult mentors back in 1955, but you see, it cost $30 to make a long distance call from our dorm to your house back then, and we considered ourselves rich if we had 2 Shillings (28 cents US) in our pocket, on canteen day, on Friday. So, you have my permission to hold your nose and have a retroactive panic attack over our potty liberties back then.



The eucalyptus tree is easily the greatest contribution Australia has made to the whole world. The Jacaru drover hat comes in at second place in the Aussies' list of contributions.

There are around 300 species of gum trees (eucalyptus) in Australia. They range from gum trees that are used to drain swamps all the way to gum trees that will survive in desert conditions. The bottle brush tree is also a gun tree. Gum trees are very common in California and all US states with a temperate climate. They also provide oil which is used in medications, and the leaves, when stripped and laid around the foundation of a house, will keep African army ants from invading a home.

The Ethiopian people roll up two fresh gum tree leaves and poke them up their nostrils if they have a cold. The saplings in a crowded gum tree grove grow close together and bolt. The result is long straight poles for using as rafters for the roof of an African hut. Gum tree forests also attract many kinds of wildlife which is a plus for the environment.

My experience with gum trees (eucalyptus) goes off in a strange direction I fear. There was a member of our boys' social set who was a daredevil type even more than the rest of us. Gary was his name. We would go into a grove of eucalyptus saplings which had grown tall and slender due to crowding and seeking light. Gary would climb one of these saplings as fast as possible. This would get him up near the top before the tree started bending over. Once the thing started bending, it would slowly let him all the way down to about eight feet off of the ground.

The trick was not to choose a sapling that was too well developed. This would result in the thing letting the climber down and stopping about twelve feet off the ground. This was a long drop and could result in injury. One day I was alone in the same woods, and I decided to do Gary's trick. I picked a sapling near a road, and I climbed as fast as I could to get as close to the top as possible. It worked great, but the sapping was too big, and it also bent the wrong way and left me dangling above a hard clay dirt road and a rough landing. I never tried that again.

Gary also had another game he loved to play in the eucalyptus woods. There was a resident green mamba, cousin of the black mamba and the cobra, which lived in the woods in deep grass. Gary would cut a small sapling, strip it of leaves and twigs, and he would try to torment the green mamba. Eventually the mamba would get mad and climb the sapping, and they are famous for being able to move like lightning. Gary would wait until the mamba was nearly at him, and then he would flip the sapling straight up so that the mamba went flying up into the air off the end of the sapling. The snake would then fall back to earth while thrashing around. We thought this was great fun, but we also had the sense to let Gary do the snake handling. Gary was a lot of fun because he was clever and agile but had poor judgment. This made for much good entertainment for us all..



Charlie Hess was a missionary in Tanzania where my family lived. He was very diligent when he worked, and he was an exceptional comic when the missionaries gathered to relax. Charlie Hess was also famous for finding bargains. More than once he had bargained an Indian merchant down so low on an item that Charlie decided to buy a gross of the item because the price was so low. He would then give away most of the gross.

Charlie knew of an abandoned German government station near his home. The station was abandoned by the Germans when the Germans lost WW I, and the station had not been put in the registry of the British Government since the war, so it was free pickings. Charlie took our family there, and we found a huge orchard of guavas, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and other fruit trees. My brother and I were given grass baskets (kikapu) and told to fill them with citrus. We carried off quite a load that day.

My Dad found a German gold mine that had also been abandoned by the Germans after WW I. Inside were small gauge rails, and my Dad saw them as the real gold. He went to a British government official, and the official checked their records. He told my Dad that the mine had never been listed. He told Dad to go take anything he wanted from the mine. Dad welded the rails top to top to make I-beams for a garage he built for the mission.

I love loquat jelly, especially if it has been cooked down like molasses. I learned to eat loquat jelly in Africa where many missionary wives made it. Loquats are not very exciting picked fresh off of the tree though.

I was dropping off an ad at the local newspaper office in Sierra Vista when I saw that they had a loquat tree in front of their office. I asked them if anyone picked them, and they said no. They said I could have all I wanted. I came back later and picked the loquats, and Elizabeth made jelly of them. This is a simple example of how easy it is to glean. Many people have no idea what they have and will let you take all you want. You do have to forget how dumb you may look picking things from trees that no one wants. A good idea is to bring around a half pint of jelly later to the tree owner so that you become their supplier. They will then make sure you know when to pick.

I learned what a curse olive trees are while I attended college. The part of La Mirada, California where the college was had been a huge olive orchard area. When it was changed into residential, an olive tree was left in each home lot. Olive trees are very valuable because they can easily be transplanted, even when they are a hundred years old.

The horror of olive trees is that, when the olives ripen, they fall on sidewalks and make purple spots that are ugly, and people can step on an olive and bring a stain into the house on their shoe. So, when we moved to Yermo, California where I pastored a church, I started watching for olive trees. They were all over Barstow, the nearby city where we shopped. I first got permission from the local hospital to pick their olives, and later I picked the trees in the True Value Hardware Store parking lot. The best olives were small but intensely black and hard. I found them at an abandoned restaurant in the town of Yermo. I conclude that olives from trees gone wild are the best for flavor, though they are small.

Olives are impossible to eat unprocessed..... they are terribly bitter. Processing can be done in three typical ways. The first is to dry them in salt until completely dried. They are a bit bitter this way but tolerable. The second method is to use lye. This gives the classic "California Olives", but they are bland and have no kick. The third way, which I use, is to soak them in salt brine. Get enough five gallon clean buckets. Load the olives into the buckets with lots of salt, and let them stand. This will draw out the bitter liquid which you must pour off. After the olives become just a bit shriveled, drain off the liquid, and pour non-chlorinated water into the buckets with plenty of salt. Let them sit for about fourteen days. Take an olive out from time to time to taste. You want to leach out the bitterness and leave salt behind. I do not use vinegar in my process, while other folks do. If white mold starts growing on the top of the liquid, do not panic. This is yeast and actually improves the flavor.

Finally, once the flavor and kick seem good to you, drain the olives, wash them, and can them with spices or a chili pepper in each jar. Add olive oil to the top of the jars for a flavor boost. You can also put the olives into canning jars with salt and water and leave them to sit for many weeks. But, canning preserves them well. Also, watch the jars for rust because the lids may have nicks which will rust on the inside. Do not drain the salt solution down the drain if you have a septic system. Make sure you do not use iodized salt. To drain the buckets, drill holes in the top of a bucket lid, put the lid on a bucket, and draining is easy. My method is commonly used in Greece and other Middle Eastern nations.


When the Franciscan monks established the Catholic mission in Tucson, they imported bitter orange plants from Spain and planted them everywhere. I am not sure how this was seen as a blessing because the oranges, while lovely to look at, are beyond sour. They are bitter, and the only use for them usually is as marmalade.

Seville orange trees growing in Santa Cruz, Spain

When we visited Tucson we noticed that people left the oranges on the ground and did not pick them up. This told me there was something offensive about the oranges. So, I asked around, and I was told no one eats them. I am a marmalade connoisseur, so I figured out that these were bitter oranges from Seville, Spain. I then stopped at a company which had orange trees in its lovely lawn, and oranges were lying on the ground, some rotten. I asked them if I could have the oranges. They were delighted because the grounds keeper had to pick them up and did not like the job.

We loaded up, and we took them home. I made a batch of marmalade, and it was exceptional. We also experimented making them into juice. We squeezed them, and we used the juice like lemon juice. By only putting a cup of juice in a two quart jug, and filling it with water and some sugar, we had a very good orange-aid drink.

On our second trip to pick oranges, I took along my two sons. Mike knew about how bitter they were, but Dan had not figured out the trick. So, after we picked a couple of boxes full and put them into the car, we headed home. The oranges were huge and beautiful, and Dan asked if they were good to eat. I told him they were and to help himself to one. He peeled it and popped a section into his mouth. What a howl went up in the back seat as the bitter orange puckered his mouth.

The key to gleaning is ignorance. People don't know what they have, and you can benefit from their ignorance.

I have another story about ignorance. We were told that the clams in the Muskegon River, near our home in Michigan, were too tough to eat. We dug a bucket full, and I fried them by the sea food rule. I barely fried them on one side, and turned them over while I knew they were not done yet. I fried the other side even less and dumped them out. They were delicious. With shell fish you MUST fry the things way too short a time logically. They will be perfect. And, if you get them from a river you will find that no one digs clams because they tried it and fried them to death which makes them like boot leather.

Again, people these days are very ignorant of the food all around them and how to cook and eat it.

Drive down Speedway Blvd. in Tucson until you are right in front of the Tucson Medical Center. On the south side of Speedway is a medical center with several offices. One is a dentist's office, and in front of that office are about six huge kumquat trees. For the unlearned, kumquats are a citrus about an inch long or more, and they taste great. They taste somewhat like an orange, and you can eat the skin with them. The best way to use kumquats is to cook them in a sugar syrup with cinnamon, sugar, and cloves, and can them to serve as a pickle item at holiday dinners. They also make a fantastic sweet marmalade for you who do not like your marmalade bitter.

To pick kumquats, cut notches like teeth in the top of a tin can on one side. Attach the can to a pole. Make sure the can is not too small. This can be used to push up into the tree and cut the kumquats off, and they drop into the can. You can beat the kumquats off the stem with a pole also, but you will knock down some leaves which you should rake up for he owner. Also, beating olives of fruit off of a tree bruises the fruit.

Mark Douglas' orchard out of Elgin, Arizona has over 100 varieties of apples, and some varieties are extremely rare. Mark will tell you which apples to pick for pies, apple sauce, or cider, and he has some eating apples that will knock your socks off. Ask him to show you where the Arkansas Blacks are.

Directions: Go south from Benson, exiting I-10 onto Hwy. 90, and proceed to Mustang Corners, or Hwy. 82. Go west on Highway 82 to the turnoff to Elgin. Take that south to Elgin. After driving through the town of Elgin, there is a Y. Take Lower Elgin Road to the right, which is not "lower" really since it goes off northwest out of town. This road wanders around a bit, but after a sharp right and left Mark Douglas' orchard will soon be on the north side of the road. You will know it by just seeing it. Tell Mark that the preacher who discussed philosophy and religion with him sent you. By the way, Mark looks like a hick, but he also writes college textbooks in mathematical epistemology. Don't let the coveralls fool you. If you are a math major, you are in for some fun. You pick your own apples, and the prices are great. Now, see if you can find your way home. Google earth URL -- Mark Dougles' Facebook page

Nopales is the Spanish name for cactus. Brazed nopales strips are a delicacy served by Mexican restaurants, and they add a great flavor and touch to steak dinners. Nopales can also be cut into an omelet. The cactus for nopales can be any of several cactus plants if they produce pads. But, the kind with the long thorns are not worth the trouble and the pain. There is a variety which has very small minimal thorns. They will definitely stick you, and you will need to pull the thorns that stick into you with tweezers.

Get a pair of kitchen tongs, and pull and twist the pads off with them and put them into a container so you don't have to touch them. Wear gloves as a precaution, but if you actually pick with the gloves instead of the tongs, your gloves may be ruined for future use. Take only young top pads off of the cactus plant. Prepare them later by laying them down and holding them down with a fork or tongs. Slide a sharp knife across the flat side of the cactus pad, and slice off the nubs with the thorns in them. Then, cut off the edge of the pad to get the nubs around the edge. Take a good look to make sure you did not miss a thorn nub. Rinse the pads to get any stray thorns off, then slice the pads into strips and fry them for a side dish. You can squeeze a little lemon juice on them when served for a Mexican touch. Nopales can be canned and stored, and they can be pickled.

Most people today have little or no knowledge of harvesting wild food. There are many delicious choices in the wild, and seldom will you find yourself in a part of the world where you cannot glean from the wild. Everyone should be able to tell when they are looking at wild raspberries of blackberries. But, there are also mulberries which make great jelly and pies. Wild persimmons are all over the middle of America. Just make sure they are so ripe they look rotten. They will pucker up your mouth bad if they are not over ripe.

Poke weed (salat) is greens that are better than spinach. Just make sure to avoid the berries which are black. Braise the poke weed leaves with some lard and a little water.

When a sassafras tree grows along the road, you may be able to get at the roots if the ditch is graded. Strip the bark off of the roots, and make a great tea with it that tastes like root beer. If you have to prune or take down a sassafras tree, save some wood for Bar B Que. There is nothing for flavor like sassafras wood.

All over the USA you can find varieties of wild onions and garlic. Usually, you can trust you nose the tell you if you have the real thing. There are some bulb like plants that are poisonous, so take along a local person to teach you how to tell the difference. I love to clip off the violet flowers from the top of wild garlic and put it into an omelet. It startles everyone, and the flavor is great.

Along many farm country roads in the USA you will find vegetables that have gone wild from farm fields, and since these plants are on the right of way, they are yours for the picking. The best deal in the USA is asparagus that has jumped the fence and is growing along the shoulder. These plants will come up every year around May, and you can take a bag and walk the road and get a meal's worth, or in some cases enough to can or pickle. You can pick the same plants several times, but leave the last shoot to keep the roots from being damaged by over picking. One rule in gleaning in the wild is not to take too much of some plants. You can destroy the plant.

If you take the time to study mushrooms, so that you don't make any mistakes, mushrooming is a great reward. Stumpers are a kind of shelf mushroom that grows on old tree stumps. They are delicious, and they can be made into catsup if you can find a recipe. If you live in the north of the USA, morels are a super delicious mushroom, and they are distinct so that you will not make a mistake and get something poisonous. Just don't pig out on the first batch. Some folks find them rich enough to make them slightly sick.

Gleaning from the water is also great fun. Stay away from mussels on the US West Coast. They take in and concentrate deadly chemicals and heavy metals. But, clam digging is a great way to get a good meal. Just be sure to buy a fishing license if required. Some people gather sea weed, but you will need to Google that one. I am not an expert. In fresh water rivers, especially in the deep South of the USA, crayfish are a big item. They can get quite big in places, and they are delicious when boiled like lobster. If you go after crayfish, you need to learn how to make Et tu Fe out of them.

I have a friend who goes to the Texas Gulf coast, he gets a lawn chair, takes it out in shallow water, and he picks clams from the bottom and eats them raw. He brags on them as if they are something gourmet.

It is about time to start looking for mustang grapes along the roads of Texas. There is no grape jelly better than mustang grape jelly from Texas.

One more thought. There are wild things growing out there which you can take home and plant in your yard or garden. You might check Google to see when to pick, whether soft or hard wood cuttings, and if they need good or bad soil. Most wild food tolerates bad soil well. You could have your own wild food garden one day.

Farms and orchards all across America leave behind fruit and vegetables when they are picking. Cantaloupe which are too ripe are abandoned in the field, and the farmer will often let you glean them free. The same goes for onions. The picking machines miss a percentage of the crop, and you may be able to get them free. Some farmers will also let you pick a gunny sack of peppers of other vegetables for a fraction of the store price. I picked myself two gunny sacks of Anaheim peppers from a farm in Arizona for only a couple of dollars a bag. My Dad gleaned an onion field in California, and we ate those onions for months.

People today feel self-conscious gleaning in fields because it makes them appear to be living in desperation. If you worry about what people will think of you, please keep moving, and I will get the goodies you are too dumb to pick up.

One day I saw an open farm truck parked in town loaded with parsnips that were either too huge or too small to send to market. I asked the farmer what he was doing with them, and he said selling to a farmer to feed to his cattle or hogs. I asked the farmer what he would charge for a sack full of parsnips, and he got about two dollar, and I got a whole sack of parsnips. Junior Heron came by the house one day with his pick up truck bed full and heaped up with carrots. They too were too small or too big to go to market. He had paid five dollars for the lot at the processing plant, and Junior was going to bait deer with them. He had stopped to give me a couple of buckets full for our family.

I have stopped at many farms around harvest time and asked if there was any chance of gleaning a field. If there is, seldom will a framer turn you away. The vegetables left behind simply rot into the ground, and the farmer has no reason to deny you the joy of getting some. I have also gotten harvested vegetables and fruit very cheap. The farmer will usually ask you to pay about what he gets for it, which is the bottom of the price chain.

Jim Cho owned an apricot orchard east of Barstow, California, and once a year he opened the orchard to the public to pick the apricots the picking crews left on the tree because they were too ripe to ship. The price was super cheap, but we did have to climb the three legged ladders to fetch them down.

On my way to Sunsites, Arizona one day I passed an apple orchard full ripe black apples. It got my curiosity, and I pulled into the ranch. I told the owner I had never seen black apples before, and we had a good time while he bragged and I learned. They were Arkansas Blacks, and he gave me one off of the tree. It was a sweet as candy. I asked him if I could pay him for a bucket full, and he gladly sold me some very cheap. I honestly have never eaten an apple better than those Arkansas Blacks. You need to learn that nothing good comes to you free. You need to stop and talk to people, learn from them, and offer to pay them to glean of pick. Seldom will the owner of farmer refuse you. The only exception is where the whole crop is already owned before harvest time by some packing company. Also, some insurance plans for farms forbid the farmer to let the public into his fields.

Final rule about gleaning. If a farmer or property owner lets you pick fruit, vegetables, or even wild food on his property, take a jar of preserves by that you made from the gleaning. This will make very sure you are always welcome for years later. We took a jar of kumquat marmalade around to the dentist in Tucson that we made from his trees, and he was beyond delighted.




Here in the Texas Hill Country we have many varieties of trees. If your experience in Texas has been to travel across the north of the state between Lubbock and Longview you will not believe the Hill Country would be so lush with woods and brushy country. There ought to be a law that everyone who travels through Texas has to pass through Austin on their journey.

The most common tree in central Texas is considered a weed by most Texans. It is called a cedar, but it is really a type of juniper. It volunteers well, and the sprouts grow fast. They will soon be up to twenty feet tall. They are conifers, so they stay green all year. For this reason, they suck up vast amounts of water. The state should make a control law offering people a tax deduction if they clear the cedars off their property. They are great for fence posts, and long ago they were used to make charcoal. A cedar fence post will not rot or be eaten by termites and can last one hundred years sometimes. But, they are no longer harvested because the T-post has replaced them for fences. They do make a great mulch for walk ways if they are shredded after cutting down.

The next most notable tree is the Texas Live Oak, the tree used in any Texas based movie to hand the bandit from. Texas live oaks grow very slowly, and they live for hundreds of yeas, maybe thousands in some cases. The photo above is the Texas Live Oak at Goose Island near Port Aransas, Texas. The oak is estimated to be over 1,500 years old, some estimate 2,000. This coastal live oak has seen Texas evolve over the past 10 centuries, seen six flags fly over it, and weathered an untold number of hurricanes and droughts. It had to be watered and fertilized during the 2011 drought, and it was weakened by it. I saw a huge live oak near our home, and the owner of a business nearby was 85, and he said the live oak was the same size when he was a kid as it is now. The key to having live oaks is to watch for a sapling sprout, and put a maker of post beside so as not to mow it accidentally. That way, in 50 years, when the big old oak you have is dying, the sapling will have grown up to replace the dying one.

The next tree of note is the Texas Elm, sometimes called an "elum" by old timers. They grow faster than the live oaks, and they don't last much beyond 100 years. They draw lightning which damages them. They also drop huge limbs when they are old. The key is to lop off the ends of old heavy branches. The elms are the habitat of a veritable zoo of wild life loved by squirrels, owls, wood peckers, exotics like peacocks and guineas, and monkeys. Right, monkeys love elm trees. Now, while that may have been the case before I moved to Texas, it has not been since I came here. By the fifth year I had lived in Texas there had not been a monkey seen in any Texas elm tree, and that is the sho nuff truth. But, no one notices. I can't get no consideration.

There are other oaks that thrive and are fun to grow. The post oaks live in clumps that look like a circle of posts leaned outward in all directions. There is the Spanish oak which has a lovely leaf and a symmetrical shape. The Burr Oak has acorns that are the size of a baseball and are a great landscape item.

The northeast corner of Texas has sandy hills covered by longleaf, shortleaf and loblolly pines, along with bluejac pines. This is a part of Texas you must not miss. These pines are found only in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

There are many other trees in Texas, but these are the ones that live with me in central Texas.



In the prophecies of the Old Testament of the Bible we have a very good look at what the Kingdom of Messiah will be like. Unfortunately, most prophecy teachers are fixated on the Rapture of the Church and the Great Tribulation. This I find strange because the Tribulation is only seven years long, while the Kingdom of Christ is 1000 years long, and there is a lot more about the Kingdom in the prophets than about the Tribulation.

Here is a prophecy of what life will be like in the Kingdom, and this makes it very clear that private ownership will be the order of the day, and people will have to work if they want to eat.

Micah 4:4 But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.

The lesson here is that, under Messiah Jesus Christ, there will be no land speculation, and there will be no eminent domain by which the government takes land away from the owners. Ownership of land will be an inalienable right under Christ's rule. I would highly recommend that you plant a fig tree. They produce so well, and just about nothing bothers them, unless that is, the chickens get out of the pen. Fig trees are cold hardy to about zero degrees, though the new buds will burn off in freezes below 15 degrees F. If the new buds burn off, the tree will start over in the spring.

I met a man in Arizona who was from New Jersey. He was Italian, and he had a fig tree beside his home in New Jersey while he lived there. He said it got cold enough in the winter to kill the tree, so he buried it in the fall. He said the fig roots are very elastic, so he dug a huge hole in his yard, and he and his brothers pushed the tree over into the hole. He then covered it with burlap and dirt. In the spring he dug it up and braced it so it would settle and keep standing. He did this every year for a number of years.

Remember, there is no better way to start a great liberation movement than to plant a fig tree.



Trimming up- Choose a "leader" carefully

Before you start pruning a tree, ask yourself what you want from that tree. If you want shade, prune the lower limbs out of it so you can sit under it. If you want fruit, prune the top out of it so that you can reach as much fruit as possible without having to climb a ladder and fall off. It is somewhat inconvenient to have to break your ankle in order to pick an apple.

Please read the pruning instructions in the graphic. The most urgent things are, do not cut a limb off flush with the trunk, and do not cut off a limb without notching it from underneath to avoid the limb stripping off a long piece of bark. The inch of two sticking out will one day be covered by bark which will grow over the cut. The two cut method above is the safest. I leave a bit more limb sticking out than this graphic suggests. If using a chain saw, beware of injuring the tree when the saw slips and comes through the cut. I prefer a Swedish saw to prune trees.

The key for a large happy tree is to pick a good healthy leader. This is the branch standing vertically in the top and center. If there are two leaders, pick the one that is the least kinked to leave, and cut the other one off. Never choose a branch that leaves the side of a vertical branch, even if it is the longest. The tree will break one day years later.

If your tree is struck by lightning and the leader burned or damaged, cut out the damaged limb, and pick a new leader. After a few years it will do just fine. But, try to cover the damaged area with tree tar to prevent insects from burrowing into the heart wood.

Trimming down- So you can reach the fruit

If you want fruit from your tree, top it regularly. Save branches which grow nearly horizontally so the fruit is within reach. If you let the leaders grow, the tree will become a freak, and you will not get as much fruit.

Keep it open for air breathing-

The center of a healthy tree should be opened up, not crowded. Cut out limbs which cross each other or grow across the middle of the tree. Cut off the limbs which are trying to grow back into the center of the tree from the outside. They will eventually reduce the airflow on the inside of the tree and encourage disease. Prune off all suckers from the base of the tree as well as off of the large limbs. Keep the inside of the tree open and airy. The most ugly and detrimental growth in a tree are the shoots and small limbs that try to grow downward. Cut them off with no mercy. These are the branches which knock your hat off. The other unwanted branches are suckers that sprout from limbs and grow straight up very fast. These limbs will never produce fruit.
Starting over after a tree is cut down or blown down in a storm
The power company put a power line to our home from the roadway. They insisted in cutting down all the trees that would be near the wire. That makes sense of course, but one beautiful oak had to come down. So, The stump sent up some suckers. I cut off all but two, and they are growing into a small tree. I will keep the top cut back to prevent it from ever reaching the power line. The best plan is to save only one sucker in such a situation, but since the tree would never be allowed to grow large, I wanted two short trees to look good.

If a tree is blown over or broken off in a storm, cut the stump as close to the ground as you can. The suckers will come up, and you can decide what you want in the new tree.


If you have two or more young trees growing near one another, the outside trees will grow away from the center trees at angles in order to get more light. Pick one or two trees, and cut the others down. I know, this is hard to do. Cutting down a healthy tree goes against our nature to preserve life, but you will eventually regret saving crowded trees.

Be sure to pick the trees you save for long life and resistance to drought and disease. Google this if you need to. I have some lovely sumac trees growing near some Texas live oaks. The live oaks are extremely hearty and last for centuries. The sumac is junky, brushy, and short lived. Now, I learned from this lone sumac that I could prune it into a rather presentable tree if I kept at it every year. But, I also know that sumac has a short lifetime. So, sumac's have to go. Sumac which produces the red bunches of seeds on top is used in the Middle East as a sour spice. You can boil the seeds and make juice of them. CAUTION: Do not use sumac with white seed heads. They are poisonous. SEE VIDEO

If a tree has grown next to another tree and is totally flat on one side, does it look nice from your living room window, or from the driveway and entrance as you arrive there? If so, you may want to save it and cut the other one down. Both trees will be flat where they meet. Help the one left by pruning it to fill out and disguise the fact that it is only half a tree.

Make a pruning hook cheap

In order to stand on the ground and prune off new growth, make this pruning hook. Buy an eight foot section of metal electrical conduit. Also, buy a hook which is sold in hardware stores for screwing into the rafters of a garage for hanging up bicycles. These are covered with red plastic usually. Insert the threaded end of the hook into the conduit, and squeeze the conduit with a vice so that the conduit is pinched on one side as far as you can by cranking the vice shut. This will trap the threads of the hook inside the conduit.

I have used these hooks for years, and they never loosen up. Pull branches down so that you can reach them with hand clippers. If the branch is on the large side, have someone pull the branches down so you can cut them off with large limb cutters.

A pruning pole with the cutter and rope is a great tool, but it is top heavy and sometimes hard to manage. But, it will allow you to do some heavy pruning of high limbs. NEVER pull a pruning pole up into a tree by the cutting end while you are in the tree or standing on a ladder. If you have your hand or finger around the hook, and while pulling it up to you a branch catches the lever, it will cut your finger off very easily. Pull it up by the butt end, or tie a short piece of rope with a loop on the head end for pulling it up.

Avoid a perfectly symmetrical appearance

Nature is not perfect. Nothing, including you, grows with perfect symmetry. One ear is higher than the other, or you smile may be tipped to one side. We see these pictures of models who seem to have perfect features, but they are nearly freaks because of it.

The same applies to your trees and shrubs. A perfectly manicured hedge is a freak. Let it have a bit of personality. Furthermore, a section of the hedge may die back. If you have it in a perfect ball shape, the part that dies back will look horrible. If you leave some natural look to it, the die back section will be disguised.

The key with large shrubs, like our Texas sage and pyarcantha, is to not let the limbs grow long and heavy. The wind will swing the heavy limbs back and forth, and in a few years the bark will split and start coming off. This will kill the limb and make the shrub ugly. We had a huge Texas sage on the property when we arrived. I have never seen one so big. But, after a few years, limbs started dying from the wind breaking up the bark. I pruned it back viciously, and it now has come back and looks fine. The photo above shows what the sage looked like as limbs started dying out of it. It stopped looking natural and started looking like it was being tortured to death.

Eye barrier

When you prune a tree up, consider if you may one day want an eye barrier between you and the next property. You may be in brushy country, but is your area in the line of growth of a nearby city. That vacant land next door could one day have condominiums right next to your fence. You may want to leave the lower branches closer to the ground in that direction.

If you want a fence row in a hurry, use poplar trees. There are some hybrids that grow really fast. But, remember, fast growing trees have a shorter life span. Poplars will be breaking up and ready to cut down in as little as fifteen years. Weeping willows grow fast also, but they drop a lot of trash.

Repair damaged or scarred trees

Our elms here in Texas develop holes where the lowest crotch is. Many trees will have holes at the ground level where the roots branch above ground for some reason. These holes will become a zoo for everything from fungus to, above ground, to owls and squirrels. This process, over time, will result in the decay and degrading of the bark and finally the inner wood. You must fill the holes. Holes that face upward can be filled with cement. Clean all the decayed and critter life out of the hole with a garden hose, and let the hole dry. Spray the inside of the hole with insecticide heavily, REALLY heavily. If it is a fruit tree, do not spray unless your insect killer is organic for that purpose. For a fruit tree, fill holes with tobacco leaves. Next, paint or spray the inside of the hole with pruning tar. Finally, after the tar is dry, use aerosol foam and fill the hole up with it. Paint tar over the exposed foam to keep it from deteriorating from sun and weather. If the hole faces upward, like in the crotch of the tree, ordinary cement will do instead of the foam. Flatten off the repair before the final coat of tar. The bark of the tree will grow over the edge of your repair and trap it in place.

If you scuff a tree with a machine, spray the wound with pruning tar at once. This will prevent the wound from becoming a habitat for varmints. If your tree gets girdled by sap suckers paint every hole they pecked to keep out infection of the tree. The sap sucker pecks through the bark and into the water carrying wood, which is very bad.

Bad things to do to a tree

It is hard on a tree to nail anything to the tree. The problem becomes ever worse if the object is ignored for many years. The tree bark will grow over the object attached and make it almost impossible to remove. We have an elm with a water pile completely encased in tree growth because the people who developed the property in 1973 attached the pipe to the tree. We cannot move the pipe or repair it.

Before you dig around a tree, Google that tree variety, and determine if it is deep or shallow rooted. If you dig a bowl around a shallow rooted tree you could actually kill it by cutting off the ends of most of the roots. Just do nothing around a shallow rooted tree except mow the grass.

You can straighten a young tree that is growing at a serious angle. Just don't do it all at once, rather; add every year to the pull you arrange by twisting the wire. Drive a T-post into the ground about four feet from the tree, and attach a galvanized wire to the tree and post. Use automobile gas line hose for the point where the wire holds against the tree so that the wire does not cut into the tree. Two posts and wires may be needed for a larger tree set at a 45 degree angle to pull in the desired direction. If you have a young tree next to a old tree, and if the young tree is growing at a severe angle away from the big tree, cut the big tree down, but leave a stump standing about five feet high. Use this as your post to pull the younger tree back up straight. Treat the stump with stump killer, and over time it will die. By the time it is old enough to dig out, the younger tree should be growing straight.

Turning a weedy bush into an attractive accent

I mentioned a sumac near our house that I trained. Sumacs tend to grow like weeds and look interesting in the wild, but as a yard shrub they are a disaster. I have trained my to look presentable, but I need to prune the sprouts off every year, and I find that if I don't cut off about three feet of sprout the things ends up over the roof by the end of summer. If I keep at it every year, it is a nice accent by the house. Many wild shrubs can be trained, but if you cannot prune the thing without cutting the heart out of it, just get rid of it and leave that variety of shrub where God planted them.

But, I do encourage you to experiment with wild plants. Some of them, which are soundly cursed by people, can make a nice touch if you domesticate them. I have an argarita bush behind the house. Texans have no use for them, but I love their yellow puff balls that are the first thing to bloom in the spring. The berries can be used to make jelly, and the wood can be used to dye cloth a bright yellow. But, the leaves are exceedingly prickly, so much so that cattle man avoid trying to ride a horse through an argarita thicket. But, I simply prune my argarita to the shape of an informal bush. It is also great fun with kids to invite them to feel the leaves. The prickles hurt but do no permanent damage. My argarita is at about five feet now, but it would grow to six or seven feet if I did not prune it.

If you don't live in Texas, Arizona, or New Mexico, and if you would like an argarita plant, it is reported that they can be started from cuttings. Ask your friend in Texas to mail you one. Otherwise, visit Texas, and when you find an argarita bush, look around underneath for sprouts to dig up and pot to carry home. If you are from California, check to see if argarita is illegal to import. California blocks almost all import of live plants, but they welcome millions of illegal Mexicans in.

Shrubs growing next to buildings

All shrubs must be placed and pruned to stand off from the house unless you have brick or stone walls. This is because branches touching the wall will move back and forth in the wind and rub the paint off of the wall. A trellis can be attached to the house at the top to let some shrubs and vines climb without clinging to the painted walls. We did this with roses in Arizona, and it worked very well. It worked fantastically in Tennessee with morning glories, and our neighbors loved to see the blue along the front of our home. It also kept the porch cool in the summer. I did it with a honeysuckle in Arizona, and it was not such a great idea. The thing grew up onto the roof of the side room, and I had to go up and weed whack my honeysuckle regularly to prevent it from degrading the roofing material. Remember that climbing vines do not know they are supposed to stop growing when they reach the top of the trellis.

Invasive roots

When you choose a tree to plant, research its reputation for invasive root growth. If a tree has shallow roots that grow just beneath the surface, it will get into drain fields, and when the tree is very old, the roots can undermine walls and sidewalks and lift and crack them. This can even happen with some shrubs. Bamboo comes in invasive and noninvasive varieties. Never plant invasive bamboo, period. It will be all through your lawn sending up sprouts, and it can even cross the ally and come up in your neighbor's lawn. If you have a tree with invasive roots, you may have to dig between the tree and a side walk or drain field to prevent it from doing harm. Septic professionals have root killer they sell, but I am not sure how well it works, or if it could work too well and kill the tree. Google that one.

Be especially careful about drain fields because, if you have a drain field plugged by tree roots, you may have no other place to put in a new one. Most counties do not allow you to try to reuse the old one. If you build near trees that will destroy a drain field see if the country code will allow you to dig one trench that is twenty feet deep. The whole point of drain fields is the square feet of hole surface. Arizona allows very deep one trench drain fields. This will put the drain pipe deep and below surface roots. You may be required to dig a test hole twenty feet deep though for a percolation test. It would be worth the expense to hire a hole drilling man to do it. Nothing should be planted over a drain field but lawn which is part of the system function by aiding in evaporation.

A rule regarding diseased trees and shrubs.

If you have to prune or saw off limbs of a diseased tree, put the saw or pruning hook and pliers into a bucket of water that is mixed ten parts water to one part with bleach. You must kill and fungus spoors that may have gotten on your tools. This applies to chain saws also. Briefly run the chain saw in the solution. Disinfect your gloves, and refrain from getting around healthy trees in the clothes you wore while pruning the diseased tree. This is a well known way to transfer diseases between trees and shrubs. This is highly important with oak wilt.

This last section has been fun. I am amazed at how much I know about pruning and caring for growing things. I guess it is because I am sharing all this with you so that you will not do the same dumb things I did. I once decided an apple tree needed a bowl around it so we could water it better. Bad idea. Apple tree roots are just below the surface, and I cut them all off, which meant the apple tree promptly died. Ve get too soon olt, und too late schmart.







Some eucalyptus trees are cold hardy to 8 degrees F. They are beautiful trees and grow with both low and high water available. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN GUN TREE. If you live in hot summer area eucalyptus will cool down your home. HOW TO PLANT THEM?
It will take some freeze maybe to 15 degrees F max.