Several weeks ago, Linda and I took a three day trip to New York City with our daughter, Julie, and her boyfriend, Eddy. Along with two Broadway show experiences, tasty restaurants, seeing the sights around the city, and enjoying Eddy’s presentation of his art at a gallery, we had a special poem written for us.
Walking through Washington Square Park there was a young lady sitting near the fountain with a typewriter on a stand with the sign “Poems $5.00.” We asked her to write a poem about a beech tree. She thought a bit, typed away, and then handed me the piece of paper. I took it and read aloud to Linda, Julie, and Eddy:
These roots are deeper than we can imagine.
Sit beneath these branches
and breathe in the wisdom it has to offer.
For here in the meadow under the beech tree
the whole world is alright.
–Mira Rosenkotz, 2019
I am serious when I write to all of you that a tingle ran up my spine. It was beautiful and has inspired me to write this article.
We all know the importance of trees. As a boy I climbed trees, sat under trees for shade on our farm, and listened to the wind blow softly through tree leaves outside my bedroom window. We had a huge horse chestnut tree in our yard on the farm in Montour County, Pennsylvania. I would use the chestnuts to make bolas, three nuts tied together with string, and throw them through the air. I don’t know where I learned about this, but they never would really spin like they were meant to—which the cats were glad of!
When we moved off the farm in 1967, my parents’ new piece of property near Montandon, PA had lots of trees: pines, dogwoods, apple trees, Chinese chestnuts, maples, flowering crabapples, and a lovely sycamore tree. I really grew to love trees from living there. It was also at that time that I became familiar with family trees.
The story has been told of how I became a genealogist when I was a young fellow. I was fascinated with the family tree drawn on a large window blind that my father’s first cousin, Bernice (Hagenbuch) Bogart, had created and kept updated. Bernice was my Hagenbuch clan’s first serious genealogist.
The white blind would be unrolled at our family reunions displaying the names of William (b. 1807) and Rebecca (Muffley) Hagenbuch (b. 1816) on the tree roots. Rising from the roots was the trunk of the tree with four large branches containing the names of the four of their seven children who had families: Mary Ann (Hagenbuch) Foust, Hiram Hagenbuch, Joseph Hagenbuch, and Emma (Hagenbuch) Reichard. From each of those branches were smaller branches listing their children, and from those were even smaller branches and then leaves. My name, Mark Hagenbuch, was on one of the leaves.
As I grew older, both the diagrams of family trees and real living trees were important to me. In marrying my wife Linda Faye, I had access to the Gutshall family cabin in Clinton County, PA which became a second home to us. I spent a lot of time roaming its 150 acres of woods, learning to identify trees, and using them for firewood to heat our home when we lived near Selinsgrove, PA. In 1985, when I was teaching fifth grade at Dalmatia Elementary north of Halifax, PA, I received a state grant to collect samples of trees so students could identify them using leaves and bark.
On our property in Hummels Wharf, where we lived with our three young children from 1981 to 1989, we had some lovely trees: pines, mimosas, a larch, and a small dogwood. When we purchased our one-acre plot here near Dillsburg and built our house in 1990, I planted that dogwood which is still growing and blossoming. It’s a reminder of our first home and property. Our acre here is littered with trees. Along with the oldest tree—that little dogwood from our previous home—we have pines, maples (one of which was planted by our daughter Katie and we reference it as “Katie’s tree”), a few huge hemlocks that came from the Gutshall cabin land, a huge locust at the corner of our property which is an original “witness tree,” a black walnut tree given to us by Linda’s father, and, of course, a beech tree.
So, we come full circle. Our family is fortunate to have a meaningful representative symbol. While many family crests have swords and animals, the Hagenbuchs are symbolized by a beautiful tree. Of course, as written about in a previous article, it might not be a true beech tree as we have always professed. But, instead, it could be a hornbeam or ironwood tree which can be rooted and twisted into living hedge rows. Whichever it is, the two share similarities: smooth bark and umbrella-like foliage.
The beech tree at the corner of my house is a huge specimen, an American Beech, fagus grandifolia. When the landscaping was planted for our newly built home in 1990, I asked my horticulturalist nephew, Tom Huffman, Jr., to plant me a beech tree. Starting only at 8 feet tall, in the past 27 years it has grown into a tremendous and lofty giant. Beech trees do not lose their leaves through the winter. The leaves begin to fall in early spring when the new leaves begin to push out. To me, it’s a lovely sight and sound throughout the winter as the brown leaves decorate the tree and softly sing when the wind blows. To be sure, the downside of this is that, although I may clear my yard before the snow flies, I always have beech leaves to rake in the spring… and so many of them!
I am reminded of our growing and lively Hagenbuch family every time I look at the beech tree in my yard, every time I look at one of the patches that depict our family crest, and certainly every time I look at the diagram of a family tree. This includes even the digital version on Beechroots. We can be proud that the symbol of our family is a tree, whether it is a beech or a hornbeam. I remember traveling in Germany and the comments Germans would make about our last name, “Oh, you know we refer to a tough person as a Hagenbucher!” It’s a reference that almost certainly comes from the strong wood of the hornbeam.
Joyce Kilmer, an American poet who was killed in World War I, wrote the beloved and well-known poem entitled Trees. This article began with a beech tree poem and it is fitting that it ends with another.
I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
–Joyce Kilmer, 1913