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One (big) tree's story: in Indiana, a fortuitous meeting between a red maple and an 8-year-old boy results in state recognition and some greater understanding.

If you have ever seen a giant tree before, perhaps you have wondered about its story. How many generations has it seen pass by? Who played under its branches as children? What unique circumstances allowed it to grow so tall? Who before has pondered its greatness?

The National Register of Big Trees and big tree programs in all 50 states document many of the large trees that people see and wonder about. These registers provide information about the trees' measurements, where they are located, and the names of the nominators.

But rarely do we have the opportunity to look past those pages and into the lives of the nominators and the stories behind how the trees made it into a register in the first place. As fascinating as it would be to document all those histories and stories, this is a story about only one.

In the state of Indiana, nestled in the heart of the Midwest, a tall red maple stands on an old mill site along the Wabash River. The tree's age is unknown, but its size indicates it has observed a changing landscape and many years of history.

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Did the tree bear witness to the induction of Indiana to statehood in 1816? Did it see the last of the Native Americans leave the state and pioneers build their new homes and harness the power of the natural world around them? How did it come about that this red maple was not chopped down for lumber or firewood during Indiana's early expansion? The answers are buried deep within its age rings.

Moving out to more recent age rings, in 2002 Carl Ruble and his son Mason acquired the Logansport property over which the red maple towers. Initially they didn't notice its grandeur or size.

In removing brush from the septic system they also removed debris that had built up around the red maple's trunk. That made the tree stand out more, but it wasn't until Carl noticed Mason could completely hide behind the tree while perched on a 4-wheeler that its massive size became fully apparent. Eight-year-old Mason wanted to build a tree house, but instead they nominated the maple to the Indiana Register of Big Trees.

Mason frequently asked his father about the status of their nomination, and they finally were told that their red maple was indeed a state champ. It was an exciting moment for Carl and especially for Mason, who was listed as the nominator. Local media attention followed, and suddenly the Rubles and the tree were thrust into the limelight.

The experience has been especially important for Mason, who is now 13. Carl has always loved nature, but this incident has helped put nature in perspective for Mason, who now regularly pulls trash out of the river in order to care for the environment. Standing at 410 points, the red maple falls just out of national championship reach, but still retains champion status in the state of Indiana. (The current national champ, at 439 points, is in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.)

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This is a story about Carl and Mason Ruble and their champion red maple, but there is a story waiting to be told about you and your trees. Which ones around you have stories that need to be told? Imagine what volumes of history we might write if trees could speak, but these majestic beings hold their secrets close and die with them undisclosed.

We must tell trees' stories. As we do they become more than branches, trunks, and leaves to be harvested for lumber or picnicked under and instead become witnesses to historical events, landmarks, playgrounds for children, and memorials.

Will you tell their stories?

Janelle Phillips is program assistant for AMERIGAN FORESTS' Global ReLeaf program.
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Title Annotation:EARTHKEEPERS; Mason Ruble; National Register of Big Trees
Author:Phillips, Janelle
Publication:American Forests
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2008
Words:631
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