I have an affinity for birch trees. My love affair started at an early age when I was four and saw my first birch bark tree. I remember the white papery bark. It’s soft, smooth talc-like touch and texture. The way it felt in my small hands and I remember that it peeled, that I could peel it off the tree, that the outside was white with black spots dashing horizontally and on the inside the back side was a peachy color.
I remember doing a little piece then peeling a big one. It must have been 10 inches long and 6 inches wide. I was pleased, proud, enthralled and ready to do it again. My mother stopped me. She explained something to me. I don’t remember what she said, but I stopped. We were on a picnic out on the Falmouth Foreside in Falmouth, Maine. I don’t remember if I tried it again that day, I clearly remember wanting to. I watched those trees carefully all through the picnic.
The memory of those white trees and the delight of peeling bark that day is my second strongest memory of birch trees. At my present house I have 17 birch trees. I’ve never touched one to peel bark. I wouldn’t dream of it. I have oaks, maples and ash trees. I’ve never counted any one of those trees, there’s no reason to. Birches, though, are special. They are sacred. I cut trees down on my property to improve views. When I want a better view I just cut the tree down. If it’s a birch we discuss its fate, we weigh, consider, and ponder the decision. Often when it’s a birch we will trim, sometimes it gets a one or two year reprieve. I’m not sure in the secret lives of trees if birches are aware of their status in the human world. Their regal bearing is certainly there.
This Birch Ring is part of a new collection. Fine gems, tree, bush, vine leaves; each leaf is handmade, hand-pierced, hand-engraved, then individually applied. Look closely. Like in nature, no two leaves are identical, ever. The shape, size and lean of each is as different as nature’s creativity.
The ring is hand-made with 30 birch leaves. The aquamarine is held in place by 6 of the leaves. Gem and ring sits comfortably, low on the hand. Birch leaves and ring are 14K white gold.
1965- my best-friend-ever, Lee and I were in the woods down by the railroad tracks one afternoon where the tracks cut through solid rock creating steep cliffs on either side. On top of the south cliff was a grove of white birches- thin, straight, tall, bordering a farmer‘s field. We often hung out by the tracks because there was a lot to do there.
One day in early fall, Lee climbed one of the birch trees to see how far he could see. He kept going and going up until I heard him yell and the top of the tree was bending down with him holding on. He was headed to the ground fast, head first. Lee let go of the tree with his legs while still holding on with his hands. His feet swung down. The tree slowed and he gently touched the ground. Lee let go of the tree and it whipped back up.
I said, “Cool. Do it again!” Neither of us had ever seen or heard of such a thing. We went through the grove trying tree after tree. It was great fun, a fabulous country sport. It was like flying. I’d never heard anyone tell of riding birches until I came across this poem by Robert Frost:
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust-
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
Frost talks about the trees losing their stiffness. He had learned the same thing we did, through experience. Lee lived closer to the railroad tracks than I did. He had gone back to ride the birches before I got back a week later. He reported that he had worn the trees out; after so many times they had lost their spring. We had to hike further out to find new birch trees.
As an adult, I see the sacred beauty of birches like everyone else. Every once in a while though, I see a grove of tall thin 35-foot trees, and like Frost, think about riding the birch trees.
There was a designer jeweler based in Philadelphia. Over the years I’ve seen a half dozen of his rings, each with a big gem, tourmaline, amethyst, aquamarine, citrine. All were handmade with a heavy wire understructure. The sides of all these rings were decorated with leaves, oak, elm, maple, grape. I’d never seen anything like them. The look, the feel, the patterning, each leaf was clearly laid out by hand, hand pierced and individually layered in and soldered in place. Once you’d seen one of his rings, his creations become immediately recognizable. His name was Mr. Oaks. We know little of Mr. Oaks. We know him only by his body of exquisite work he left behind. Because oak leaves seemed to be his favorite I’ve often wondered if the name Mr. Oaks was assumed because he worked with so many oak leaves.
One of our jewelers has worked on a number of Mr. Oaks ring designs. We got into a conversation a few months back about Mr. Oaks rings and I was surprised to learn that he too had developed a love for everything created by Mr. Oaks- his high carat green gold, the grace, the flow, the logic of the gem and leaf pattern. I talked about building a collection. My jeweler was enthused. My jeweler said at most he could make 8 – 10 rings a year.
The first Gary Roe ring made had a SparHawk Mint-Green-Teal Maine Tourmaline with Ginko leaves on the sides. We completed it on a Monday, sent an email to 11,000 of our closely connected Cross Family Customers. The ring was chosen within hours. The American Elm Cat’s Eye Tourmaline was ring number two, and the Birch Leaf Aquamarine Ring was the third.
Gary Roe is the collection name, a philosophy of gem design, precious metals, construction and crafting. It’s a collaboration of gem cutter, designer, and craftsperson. I’m as anxious as I imagine some of you are to see what his next designs will look like.
Rings in the Gary Roe Collection will be mostly larger, important gems. Part of the reason is the amount of time these handcrafted designs take to make. There will be no commission projects. Everything made in the Gary Roe Collection will be pieces designed and specially built for our Cross family of email friends who always get the first view of special new creations.
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