Lesson from a Holly Tree

Hike to discover

Holly berries in the wild

The Backstory

Trekking through the Dawes Arboretum is a common family activity in all seasons, even in the winter. I am a proud member of the arboretum in Newark, OH, and just like the advice I gave in my Lesson from a Dead Ash Tree story, visit an arboretum frequently to appreciate our trees. Take a stroll through the rest of this story to see what’s waiting for you.

On top of Glacier Ridge. Dogs love the trails too!

The Typical Arboretum Hike

When we arrive, we usually don’t have a plan on where we’ll be going, but we try to rotate the directions we go each time. After parking at the top of the hill near the visitor’s center, we take a look around and randomly pick a direction…

  • to the north where the Daweswood House and cemetery are located;
  • to the south through the Woodlands, by the maple syrup cabin, and wrapping around Dawes Lake;
  • to the east through the Cyprus swamp and through the tunnel under the road to Arboretum East;
  • or to the west down through the Japanese Garden and Dawn Redwood mini-forest.

Surprisingly, while we go a different direction every time, it’s amazing that we end up in the same places along the same paths, even though the arboretum is made up of more than 2,000 acres and 12 miles of trails!

Map courtesy of Dawes Arboretum 2017. http://dawesarb.org/visit/maps/

Here’s a typical hiking path at Dawes Arboretum…

  • Park near the visitors center and stray north where the path forks to toward the Dawes house or to the sundial. We go toward the sun dial.
  • The path is still somewhat gravel-like, and we pass the fallen-log playground area on the left. Kids play there for a few minutes.
  • We keep walking along the path and veer to the left. We come across the steel windmill and are faced with another decision. Go across the road into the forest or to the right down the hill. We go down the hill.
  • On the way down the hill, it’s inevitable that we cross the road and walk along the fence line.
  • The fence line guides us to the entrance of the Japanese Garden. For some reason, we always go counter-clockwise around the pond.
  • Around the pond we go and take a rest at the shelter overlooking the pond and open up the Pokemon GO! mobile game.
  • There’s a Pokemon Gym right behind the shelter in the middle of the wooded hill at a bench. We go there to battle.
  • We keep going up the hill and come across a path. We usually go to the right, down the hill, through the tree tunnel, and out into the open grass.

BUT THIS TIME, we decided to consciously pick a different direction on the route. Once we got through the woods behind the Japanese Garden shelter, we turned left. YES! A different direction! The trail opened up on the top of the hill into a clearing full of green-leafed trees… in the middle of winter.

The Object

The first tree I noticed was this huge tree that had bright green leaves and red berries, which created a blatant contrast with the white snow… the Yule American holly tree.

Then I realized, there were rows of holly trees! Really neat-to-look-at foliage on a cold, snowy winter day. The hill is known as Holly Hill, and it is the location of dozens of these trees.

Until the day we were introduced to the holly trees, we had not ventured anywhere in the Glacier Ridge area of the map. If it weren’t for the Christmas season featuring this tree, I would have no idea what it was (aside from reading the sign of course).

It’s the first time that I’ve ever seen a holly tree in person, and it was surprising to just how sharp and uninviting the tree was!

Holly berries and leaves are poisonous, according to the National Capital Poison Center.

If something looks like it should be left alone, leave it alone. I suppose that’s nature’s lesson to us animals, but at some point, somebody had to learn this lesson the hard way.

Beautiful and brutal at the same time…

A young holly tree on Holly Hill at Dawes Arboretum, Newark, Ohio

The Lesson

I think it’s fascinating that all the hours and walking we’ve done at Dawes Arboretum and the staring at the map, this is the first time we’ve visited this area of the park. So much to explore!

I also think it’s fascinating that the tree is named the “Yule American holly”…

Sign at Dawes Arboretum, Newark, Ohio

I can only assume that the tree’s leaves and berries made great decoration around the holiday festivals of my European ancestors and led to the establishment of the red and green colors we now associate with Christmas.

It was a great day of discovery and exploration.

The Take-aways:

  • Break routine and choose a different direction to discover something new
  • Go off the path once in a while
  • If something looks like it should be left alone, leave it alone.
  • Plant a tree

There are so many ways to help the planet and ways to explore the areas in which we live, but one of the best ways to appreciate life is to plant a tree, watch it grow, and bask in its protection and glory.

Written by Shaun Holloway.