Monday, October 26, 2009

The Misunderstood And Underappreciated Mountain Cedar

If there is one thing that gets people in the Texas Hill Country huffing and puffing, it is the "Mountain Cedar." While the tree is found in a few other parts of the country, its heaviest concentration is in the hill country of Texas. To hear many allergy sufferers tell it, the tree is the worst thing on the face of the earth and totally devoid of anything positive whatsoever.

To begin with, the tree is really a juniper. Its scientific name is Juniperus ashei. Detractors of the tree no doubt, accuse this juniper of deceitfully masquerading as a cedar, further proof that the tree does not deserve any respect.

It is true, that the severe allergy symptoms caused by the tree’s pollination, have a detrimental impact on many Texans. Pollination usually begins as early as November, but hits its peak during the cooler months of December through February. And it is during these months that the real suffering takes place. People with an allergic reaction to the pollen call it “Cedar Fever.” And while there is no actual fever which develops, there are some very real symptoms.

Nasal congestion, repeated sneezing, shortness of breath, teary and itchy eyes, are just a few of the symptoms which plague a great many people. Unfortunately, those affected have to deal with the symptoms for many months. There are allergy medications, but which, depending on the person, bring mixed results. Additionally, sufferers are sometimes advised to stay indoors as much as possible. Not very practical advice I would say, and again, bringing mixed results.

If the tree’s bad reputation was just based on the problems it causes for the human medical condition, that would be one thing, but it doesn’t stop with just that. Some of the tree’s attackers consider it a weed, and treat it as such. Others say it is a fire hazard, takes more than its share of water from the soil, doesn’t look good, offers insufficient nutrition to animals, and produces wood which is next to worthless. Goodness, if I was this cedar, I would have a serious problem with my self-esteem with all that criticism.

But it gets worse. Even those who had traditionally made a living off the tree had to endure the barbs of others. A little history is in order.

From the late 1800’s until about the start of World War II, there was a group of somewhat nomadic people who moved around the hill country looking for work. Their main subsistence came from going into the numerous cedar brakes in the hills and chopping down the trees. As a result, they were referred to as “Cedar Choppers.” The wood they cut was sold and then used for a variety of purposes, including, everything from railroad ties and fence posts, to charcoal. Unfortunately, perhaps given their lack of a permanent home, and the hard living lifestyle, the term “Cedar Chopper,” took on a negative and hurtful connotation to the people who cut down the trees.

So it seems that if you were this cedar, or, were a person associated with this cedar, you were not favorably looked upon by many in the hill country over the years. But, I’m going to defend both the tree and the people.

This cedar of the hills, along with a few other trees, keeps the Texas Hill Country green all year long. The beauty of the hill country, with its outstanding views, is primarily due to the abundance of this much maligned tree. For those of you who are cedar detractors, but also, benefactors of tourism, imagine looking out over the many scenic hill country vistas without the presence of this tree. What would the scarcity of this tree in the hills have on your annual income? I'm just asking.

And what about those “Cedar Choppers” of the past, who cut down the trees to earn a living, provide for their families, make available the wood to fence property boundaries, expand rail lines, and bring forth the charcoal to cook meals? Well, today, you would call those people, “hard working Americans.”

No comments:

Post a Comment