Anthropomorphic Trees

Tree creatures. Walking in a park by the lake a few weeks ago I snapped this picture of a tree base that I instantly labelled, “Tree Feet”.

Helen’s been writing a lot about trees lately and it has made me think about how I’ve felt about trees in my life. Trees were only one of the alphabetical list of “Things That Scared Me” as a kid. Especially really big trees. Shall I blame Walt Disney? Picture Snow White lost in the forest, the trees becoming human monsters, grasping out at her in the darkness. That scene imprinted itself on me, and I could never look at a tree without a teeny part of me thinking it might come to life and grab me with its…tree hands. Yikes. Naturally, as a child I didn’t make the connection that the trees were only coming to life in her mind. I thought that in some forests, in some places, trees might Really Do That. They certainly continued to do that in my nightmares.

Walking in the dog park the other evening at twilight I stood under, then looked up at a particularly enormous tree and suddenly shivered. It brought back the days in grade 5 when my route to school contained a particularly huge half dead elm tree. A monster with branches that groaned. I was terrified of that tree. Especially when the wind was blowing. Or in winter when its black branches were silhouetted against the sky. I used to run past it pell mell every time, stopping only when I thought I was out of “arms reach”.

When I first moved out to the countryside of eastern Ontario, I noticed how many elm trees were still growing, that there were many that hadn’t succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease. One tree in particular, growing in the centre of a large crop field had survived to a massive size. It was particularly full and its elegance always struck me when I drove by. Huge, fountain-like, the way elms are. Not scary: Beautiful. Seen from the distance of the road, I always meant to stop my car and take a picture of it. I felt like it was my tree. I couldn’t drive by without saying, “Hello tree”. It made me happy. This year sadly, it finally succumbed to whatever pest is killing the elms. Gone forever; now bare branched, like the tree that scared me as a kid. Now when I see it, I’m just sad. I never stopped to take a picture, as I planned.

The sad truth is that the mature trees on my Toronto street are mostly “on their way out”. The one outside my bedroom window is monster sized, and happily, it’s one that still retains some youthful vigour. Most others though, have sections with bare branches and they lose a few large ones every year. They won’t be with us much longer. They’re not succumbing to disease, but just old age. Lucky them.

Trees, like people, don’t live forever. They start from practically nothing, and grow into giants. But friendly ones. I know that now.


  1. It is so sad to see the trees go. My grandparents lost two huge elms in their front yard in northern Maine when I was but a kid. That loss has always affected me and I know my grandmother never got over it. The world is not the same without trees. So sad.

  2. Your story reminded me of that scene in Poltergeist where the tree outside the little boy's bedroom bursts through the window and tries to eat him. That was scary!

  3. I can see how trees can be frightening to children with Snow White and the Wizard of Oz.

    I love trees and the moments that they signify when they are planted in honor of events and those we love.

  4. The Garden Ms. S – You are freaking me out now! ;^)

    Tina, how sad about those elm trees. I have a huge, scraggy Manitoba Maple next to my house, and even though it's not a beautiful specimen tree, I know I'll be sad when it is no longer there. Birds, squirrels and tree frogs love it.

    How it Grows: I think I saw that scary tree in the preview, but never saw Poltergeist. I purposely avoid horror movies. I'm too suggestive! It's almost worse when the movie's over and my imagination kicks in!

    AZPlantlady, I'd forgotten about the Wizard of Oz trees. They were the ones that got mad when the apples got picked, right? I was too busy being scared of those flying monkeys and that terrifying tornado. (which I learned as an adult was actually a woman's stocking twisted up!)

    1. Erika, I’m not sure what type of tree is in the picture. We have a lot of Norway Maples in Toronto, so it might be that.

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