Maple trees are common and we almost don't even notice them. In the early spring, sugar maples are tapped for their sweet sap, but otherwise their usefulness and beauty is pretty much taken for granted. Walking up the back steps after working in the yard today, I paused in the shade of the maple tree and thought back to other maples I've loved over the years.
Growing up, we lived in an old farm house with 2 giant maples in the front corners of the house and a third along the side. They stood guard over the house with their leaves swaying sweetly in the summer breezes. We didn't have air conditioning, but the deep shade offered by their dense growth made it bearable. The trunks of those trees were immense and their canopy met over the top of the 3 story house. In the side tree, my brothers built a tree house. It was higher than the second floor bedroom windows. Looking back, there was no adult supervision and the safety of this structure built by kids of around 12 was never checked out. Boards nailed to the trunk were the ladder. It was a little scary to be honest, but on the few occasions I found the nerve to climb those boards and rest in the middle of the tree were magical. The swaying branches with the leaves singing gently in the moving air mesmerized me and allowed my mind to wander unfettered. Those trees were as much a part of the house and our childhood as any wall, window, furnace or pipe.
Later, when my daughter was little, we lived in a house with a row of large maples between the yard and the road. Many hours were spent watching the trees dancing in the wind, and she named them all "Maple-y." We watched the moon sail between the upper branches, and thrilled in the spring to see them quickly go from bud to leaf. Eventually there was a rope swing hanging from the largest tree, and she loved to play among the exposed roots and trunks on hot days when the shade welcomed her.
As soon as this house was built, a maple tree went in. It now shades the kitchen and one side of the deck in the morning. The branches tickle us as we go up the steps. As each season passes, the tree trumpets its arrival, changing leaf color, dropping leaves, swelling buds, blooming, leafing out in the brightest of spring greens, and finally settling on a deep cool green before starting over again. Each of those colors and seasons changes the whole feel of the house. Spring green casts a cheery glow in the morning, and walking into the kitchen to make coffee just makes me happy - right off the bat, first thing in the morning. The clear, mellow yellow of autumn does the same thing, but brings a certain coolness with it.
The shade in the middle of summer is a blessing that cannot be matched. Even in the dead of winter, I can see where the buds will be swelling in a month or so, and am warmed at the thought. Ice sometimes clings to the branches in a stunning display. When a friend from the city visits, we find ourselves sitting beneath the branches in the grass, talking quietly. It is simply always beautiful.
So often with herbs, the question, "What is it used for?" comes up. Before writing this, it crossed my mind to put together some medicinal or culinary uses, or maybe a craft using the whirling seed pods, but that would be overkill. This tree is used for comfort, joy, beauty and as an anchor in time and space.
It doesn't really need to be more than that.