The Trees of Drew Forest

By Olin Curtis

The first time I ever saw Drew Forest, Doctor Upham, my gracious host, suddenly said: “Do you want to see the finest thing we have here?” Not waiting for an answer, he started in the direction of Cornell Library. This direction vaguely led me to expect to see a rare book, or an old manuscript, or a historic portrait.  But, before we came to the library, the doctor stopped, backed away from the path, and, with a quick flourish of his right hand and entire arm, as if trying to sweep the whole campus into the spot in front of him, exclaimed heartily: “There it is! That beech! Is there anywhere on earth, any living thing more beautiful?”

Our last scene is that paradise of trees, ‘Drew Forest.’ The entire picture is beyond my courage; but here is a fragment: a group of white birches, and snow-besprinkled spruces standing over against eastern sky. It is a December morning, perhaps ten minutes before sunrise. From where I stand, I now and then catch, through the treetops to the northeast, kindling patches on the distant, low-lying hills. Squarely in the east are long, streaming pennants of color—none regular, none gorgeous—just dull red alternating with blues so dark that they barely escape being somber. The tops of the birches are the first to respond to the dawn, and very soon their plumes, drooping and gently swaying, shine like treads of silver filigree. But only for a few moments are the birches central in the scene, for the tops of the spruces now become aware of the rising sun. All their sharp points and variant angles are suddenly burnished, and over the dark green branches, powdered as with damp marble dust, there is a shimmer of gold beryl which seems to light up the erect dignity of the spruces with unmistakable gladness. You begin to appreciate those exultant words in Isaiah: ‘All the trees of the field shall clap their hands.’ For these transformed spruces appear to be ready to do any joyous thing!

I break away from the small group and look over the whole sweep of the Forest, and everywhere it is morning in the treetops.

—Professor Curtis

Professor of systematic theology, Drew Theological School, 1896–1914
From The Building of Drew University (1938) by Charles Fremont Sitterly

Update: In 2011, Hurricane Irene took down many trees on campus, including a giant on the edge of Tipple Pond, just south of the Rose Memorial Library. The current library sits near where its predecessor, the Cornell Library referenced by Professor Curtis, once stood. Is it possible that Irene took down the very tree Curtis mentions? Sadly, yes. It was a beech.

One Response to “The Trees of Drew Forest”

  1. [...] visual tips on how to tell one type of oak leaf from another. The interactive version also links to a glorious description, by Mrs. Olin’s less crabby spouse, of trees at Drew, which itself is worth reading.–Renee Olson Headlines $(function(){ [...]

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