This tree stood in my neighbor's yard about a ten minute walk up the hill from my house. I tried to draw the tree and the house very
accurately. Even the dogs, Joshua and Rebecca, are real dogs. To do the cover illustration I actually made sketches while lying on
the ground looking up at this huge maple. Here is a photo from that perspective.
There are several ways to tell the age of a tree without cutting it down and counting the rings. Tree experts use a device that drills
into the tree and extracts a long core of wood about as big around as a pencil. They can count the rings from this core. I decided
to estimate the age of the tree by measuring around it and comparing that measurement to stumps of other sugar maples where I could
count the rings. There is lots of logging in the woods here, and so finding good size stumps was fairly easy. Averaging all this data,
I calculated that the big tree was a seedling in 1775. The house was built sometime around 1805.
All this ties in nicely with United
States history, especially since a famous battle of the Revolution was fought about 20 miles from the tree. War always seems like
an incredible waste to me, and so I did not put a battle scene in the book, but rather, the sad aftermath.
When school groups
come to visit, I take them to see The Big Tree, as well as, The Big Rock.
The Big Tree is the second book in the Big series and has always been a favorite with readers. I think this is because it combines
American history with the history and science of the tree, and also because everyone likes trees. This was said about the book when
it first came out:
Bright, warm paintings......reflect the subtle partnership between humankind and nature. Booklist, January
Outstanding Science Trade Book of 1991 The Children's Book Council
Alas, I can no longer show The Big Tree to children in person, as it is no more. The tree was cut down in 2013. The upper limbs were
showing signs of rot and were a serious threat to the house. One huge section had split off from the trunk earlier, and fortunately
it fell away from the house. If it had fallen on the house, if would have crushed the structure. All things must come to an end, and
so the tree is gone now, as are both of my friends who lived in the house.
Now a new family has purchased the place and have fixed
up the house. And so The Big Tree lives on in memory and also in this book, which I have recently reprinted with Porter Corners Press.