So how do we read that unique tale? When a plant is single-stemmed and approximately double our height (10-15’) we give it the status of a tree. We now notice its presence. We could say that height gives us one paragraph in the book of a tree’s life. We try to ‘guess’ how old it is by looking at its girth. But it is more difficult to correlate the age of a tree with just the width or diameter of its trunk. The next question might be, how wide is the canopy? Could the limbs support us if we chose to climb it? If the lowest major limb emerges from the trunk close to our height, then it began its life in the open sunlight with no competition. When the first limbs are higher up, the opposite is true; it began its life in close or crowded circumstances where it had to compete for sunlight.
A more difficult question is, how do we read the other half of the tree’s physical being – its root system? Look at the base of the tree as it enters the soil and see how it flares - hopefully it is a wide flare. The strength of these roots tells us if it’s an old tree. With really old trees, this root flare appears to be lifting the tree up out of the ground, although that’s not really the case. Like so many aspects of ‘reading’ a tree, we are left in wonder as we can only recognize a few of chapters of a tree’s story.